With women’s basketball starting to receive some of the enormous amount of support that they deserve, HBO has decided to air a documentary about the Cheryl Miller-led USC teams that dominated college basketball. The decision is not only well deserved, but it also shows the growth of women’s sports.
If you weren’t around in the mid-1980s, then you probably remember Miller more for her stellar broadcasting career as a sideline reporter for TNT for over a decade. You also will remember her for being Basketball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller’s older sister. Before that, Miller was considered by many to be the best women’s basketball player of all time.
At USC, Miller averaged 23.6 points per game, 12.0 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game, 3.6 steals per game and 2.5 blocks per game. Miller was one of the most prolific athletes of her time, male or female. Miller holds USC records in points, rebounds, field goals made, free throws made, games played and steals. Miller also had her number 31 jersey retired by the school which was the first by the school for a basketball player. The Trojan alumni also scored 105 points in a high school basketball game and was the first woman to dunk in a basketball game.
Miller was revolutionary and dominant. She was ahead of her time in terms of her on-court dominance.
During a premiere for the movie, Adam Grosbard of the Orange County Register wrote, “The film begins with the incomparable basketball historian Doris Burke posing a simple question: What if, after Michael Jordan first displayed his tantalizing, exhilarating greatness on a national stage, an injury abruptly ended his career and he disappeared from view? That’s Cheryl Miller.” Miller’s impact also goes unnoticed due to the lack of professional women’s basketball leagues. Miller and her USC helped to influence the development of more professional leagues for women, specifically the WNBA.
The film’s director, Alison Ellwood, said via the LA Times, “These women were trailblazers whose talent and charisma created new possibilities for women in basketball and in countless other pursuits.”
In an era where women’s basketball is on the upswing –– they just signed a new Collective Bargaining Agreement –– the story of the Trojans is very important.
Miller was an All-American and a gold medalists for team USA. That’s where her basketball journey ends. Injuries and a lack of a professional women’s basketball league led to her prematurely leaving the sport from a playing perspective. Miller was before her time. She was so dominant and she was something that other teams had seen from a women basketball player.
Ellwood of the L.A. Times got an advance screening as the film has yet to be released to the public. Ellwood wrote that, “It goes on to explore the impact of those Trojan teams on women’s basketball, with dignitaries such as UConn coach Geno Auriemma describing how no team had ever played with USC’s pace, and no player had ever possessed Miller’s combination of size and speed and skill.”
In today’s terminology, Miller is a “unicorn.” She had the work ethic and talent to succeed in the WNBA.
From Grosbard of the Orange County Register: “It should have been Cheryl Miller’s story to go on and have a huge WNBA career, but it didn’t exist at the time. But then Coop ends up coming back and having that,” Ellwood said. “It’s like the script got flipped on those stories, which is so interesting.”
Miller was dominant to the point that it overshadowed her youngest brother, Reggie Miller. In the 30 for 30 he spoke about how he “couldn’t win” with the best women’s player in the world also playing in the same household.
It’s a great what-if to think about what Miller could have done in the WNBA. The stats, the fanfare, there’s endless possibilities in regard to how Miller could’ve changed the future of women’s basketball.
There aren’t many think pieces on Miller and her exploits in the WNBA. Her accomplishments are talked about in lore like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in the 50s and the 60s. Miller isn’t given her proper dues.
It’s now on us to ensure that an oversight like that of Miller’s dominance doesn’t happen again. With the influx of talent in both collegiate and professional women’s basketball, the sport is becoming must-see TV.
Sabrina Ionescu has blossomed into a star for the Oregon Ducks. Ionescu became the first college player to collect 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists while also being the career triple double holder for both men’s and women’s college basketball.
Ionescu will join the WNBA this year and join the crop of elite talent that the WNBA has. From veterans like Diana Taurasi to young stars like Breanna Stewart, the WNBA and their athletes deserve the media attention that other leagues get. The WNBA is the pinnacle of women’s basketball in the United States; it’s time we cover the sport as such.