Shaq vs. Brad Miller: Round 2?


Nov 5

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Brad Miller knows what it’s like to have come that close to death.

Perhaps that’s why he’s so quick with the quip, like saying he can’t catch the lob so he throws them, that Luol Deng should know a bunch of those 20 rebounds Tuesday came because Miller let them bounce off him.

And Thursday in Cleveland for the first time in a Bulls uniform since that horrifying moment, Miller comes face to face—maybe back to face as he did then—with the man who almost left him with as much substance as a pouch of tobacco, Shaquille O’Neal.

“We’re both a lot older and don’t do the same things anymore,” offered Miller about some form of déjà vu all over again.

It was Jan. 12, 2002 in the United Center with the Bulls winning an overtime game against the Lakers and Shaq. Which was no small accomplishment on the way to a 21-61 record under Tim Floyd before Floyd became a volunteer bouncer at a nickel slots casino.

Ron Mercer was leading scorer that night with 28 points.

But the drama was near the end with the Bulls executing their game plan a bit too seriously.

“It was hack a Shaq below free throw line. Game plan,” recalled Miller, who’ll likely see considerable time on O’Neal Thursday night. “It was an (Charles) Oakley elbow that hit him and me in the back of the head. Of course being the (slow) white guy I got blamed for it.”

Big guys, especially great big, dominant guys, don’t get a fair whistle. Referees allow them to be mugged, and Shaq had enough in the frustration of heading to a loss against that Bulls team. With Miller blocking him out and bumping, Oakley came up from behind Shaq and nailed him with a brutal elbow.

Shaq simply snapped. He became The Big Roundhouse.

“I didn’t see nothin’,” Miller said. “Ever so slightly I turned my head and felt this breeze come by my left ear. I (started) walking off saying, ‘Damn it Oakley.’ I started rubbing my head from his elbow and this haymaker barely missed.”

I was sitting courtside that night and have been ringside for at least a half dozen Mike Tyson fights when I filled in as a boxing writer in the 1980s. I’d never seen anything like that, and from a man almost 350 pounds and with no boxing glove. You could hear the whoosh as Miller moved his head and Shaq’s full swing whizzed by.

The bench emptied to shelter Miller and Shaq was dragged away screaming if not kicking to the Lakers’ locker room.

It’s almost eight years later and Shaq is finishing up his contract with the Cavs and Miller is back with the Bulls on his last contract season. I’m hoping the Bulls don’t double Shaq because he’s not that Shaq, and they don’t have an Oakley to help, anyway.

Shaq can’t beat you anymore, and I always wonder why coaches still talk about him as if he’s THAT Shaq. He isn’t. Let him have the ball and grind the offense to a halt. Stay with the shooters. If he tries to score 25, their game will stop. But coaches keep throwing doubles at him. Though he will knock over Joakim Noah like a bowling pin.

Miller has played Shaq since, though not as a Bull. Miller admits he needed “a couple of beers” to relax after that brush with mortality. Of course, he also needs that when nothing has happened.

Miller later watched the video and had one trenchant observation:

“Glad he missed

Not missing, after all, was Tyrus Thomas, who flew into Cleveland Thursday afternoon to join the team and was expected to play and log time on LeBron James against the Cavs.
“I’m here to support the team whatever it is, cheer, play, whatever. That’s what I’m here for,” said Thomas.
Thomas said the team doctor cleared him Thursday morning to play and he is fairly sure he didn’t have H1N1 flu.
“I’m positive I didn’t (have swine flu),” said Thomas. “I don’t think I’d be here if I did. It was bad. Fever, chills, vomiting, couldn’t eat. But I’m better.”
All the way back, Thomas was asked.
“I’m close enough,” he said.
Added coach Vinny Del Negro: “I want to see how he warms up. I know he’s been very sick, as sick as he’s been. He’ll come off the bench and Taj (Gibson) will start and hopefully we’ll get him out there. I appreciate the effort of getting here and if he could give us a few minutes that would be great.”

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