With being substantially overweight coming into the NBA many seriously doubted that the University of Arkansas 6’9’’ center Oliver Miller could actually succeed at the next level.
“I’ve always been athletic for my size. Me and my cousins would go to the country, to my grandma’s in Teague, Texas, and we’d have our own Olympics. Hundred-yard dash. Hurdle old tires. My cousins were smaller than me, but I’d catch ’em.”Oliver Miller, Sports Illustrated, November 7th 1994
During his first two years as a pro, Miller, who’s weight throughout NBA career varied from 270 up to unbelievable 380 pounds (!), added his inside presence and overall versatility to the winning mix of the Phoenix Suns, the 1993 NBA finalists led by superstar forward Charles Barkley.
“As Charles used to say, ‘O could be an All-Star if he learned two words: I’m full.’ ”Mark West, Sports Illustrated, November 7th 1994
However, before the 1994-95 season, Miller signed a four-year offer sheet worth $10 million with the Detroit Pistons. Back then, the 1989 and 1990 NBA champions also known as the Bad Boys from Detroit were in the process of rebuilding around the rookie star Grant Hill and 2nd year pro Allan Houston.
“Obviously he was a little bit overweight, a little out of shape (last season). But we looked at him and said overweight and out of shape he’s better than anyone we had (at center) last year.”Tom Wilson, Chicago Tribune
In his lone season with the Pistons Miller shared minutes at the center position with his Suns colleague Mark West, starting in 22 games and averaging 8.5 points, 7.4 boards, and 1.8 blocked shots per. One of Miller’s most impressive games of that season came on March 25th vs. the visiting Boston Celtics in the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Big O displayed his entire offensive repertoire highlighted with an unstoppable turnaround jumper. Using his body weight he dealt with the Celtics 1996 Croatian Olympian Dino Radja with ease. Miller scored 18 points on 7-11 shooting from the field, to go along with 9 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 2 steals.
But most importantly, after the Celtics successfully defended Hill’s drive to the basket and West’s desperation hook, it was Miller who found himself open in the middle and being uncontested tipped in the ball with just 2.9 left, thus securing the Pistons 103-104 win in a thriller. Interestingly, at the time, Miller did have an Olympic dream of his own for the upcoming 1996 Games.
“They’ve already used up Alonzo [Mourning], Dave [Robinson], all the really great centers. They should be getting around to me for Dream Team III.” – , Detroit Pistons 1994-95, via Sports IllustratedOliver Miller, Sports Illustrated, November 7th 1994
Although he eventually wasn’t picked for Dream Team III, after his lone season with the Pistons Miller was selected by Toronto Raptors in the 1995 expansion draft as the 27th pick overall.
In Toronto, performing for the squad coached by a former Pistons assistant coach Brandan Malone, Miller blossomed and played his most productive ball of the entire career – he started in 72 games and averaged 12.9 points, 7.4 boards and 1.9 blocked shots per game.