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Miller's edge is her totality, the fact that she excels in all the phases. No contest, she is the best offensive rebounder of all time. "Who ever dominated a game with rebounding the way she does, woman or man?" asks Georgia coach Andy Landers, whose team has held Miller to a career-low 12 points. What's more, Miller is simply much quicker, faster, stronger and bigger than any of the others. Only Harris among the name women topped out over 6 feet.
"I think what makes Cheryl the best is that she is in better shape than anybody else," says Lieberman, late of the Dallas Diamonds, who were late of the Women's American Basketball Association, which was late with the payroll, which meant later, over and out. "She's got the great body, and then she hustles 100 percent of the time. She's like Larry Bird—when everybody is tired and dragging, she picks up a quick 10 or 12 points. She also plays basketball like Martina [Navratilova] plays tennis: When she releases, with or without the ball, she's immediately moving forward and up on the board. Her rebounding is like Martina closing on the volley. What she doesn't control she keeps alive.
"Of course Cheryl has revolutionized the game. She's taught young girls to play hard all the time and to be physical. She learned to do that the same way I did—we had to play like the guys. The flamboyance is her bread and butter. She sees those cameras and she seizes the moment. Sure, it's all Hollywood, but that's O.K., too. We're going to induct her into the Prima Donna club. Me and the McGee twins [Lieberman's former teammates at Dallas and Miller's at USC] are charter members. I think Cheryl is the best thing that could have happened to the game."
Physical skills aside, Miller's charisma, effervescent style and flair for showmanship remain the intangibles that set her apart. As the quintessential brother's little sister and registered trademark tomboy growing up in Riverside, Miller had only one player's poster on her bedroom wall. The player was Pistol Pete Maravich. One of her favorite baseball players was the eccentric, cigar-chomping, skull-spinning righthander, Luis Tiant. Why, of course. "He was different," Miller explains.
Miller dared not only to be great and different. She also dared to be fun.
That haircut—the one with the curls low in back and cut short over the ears—was the design of Betty Cooper at Ebony Crest in Riverside, a special at Miller's request. "I guarantee you I originated that in California," Miller says. And that extended flipping wrist, the move where after a long-range swisher, Miller keeps wagging her wrist up there on the follow-through even as she backpedals down-court? The Hotdog Wrist is a variation of her father's instructional-shooting form perfected long ago on the concrete half-court in the Millers' backyard. (Reggie has taken some flak over at UCLA for precisely the same gesture.)
Timing? "Hey, you make your own magic," Cheryl says. Johnson? "They say our games are similar," she says.
Imagine Miller's consternation when in her senior year as a Poly Bear she-went for a bundle one night against Norte Vista High and everybody got angry. So what if she scored 105 points and even dunked once in a 179-15 victory—41 in the decisive fourth quarter, gut-check time? She was just doing what she was supposed to do. Having fun. And she did miss four shots. As Saul Miller says, "If Cheryl doesn't even show up, it's 74-15 and still a blowout. What's the difference?"
As a woman, but not necessarily a lady, of Troy, Miller has been nabbed posing and posturing and carrying on something horrid. She has pointed in enemy faces and at scoreboards, blown kisses to crowds and opponents, executed arched-back cheerleader leaps after baskets, drop-kicked the ball and climbed on the rim after NCAA titles. And oh yes, she has had to be restrained from fighting. She has also threatened a staff member of the USC Daily Trojan, warning him if he took any more "potshots" at her she would have some friends "waiting" at the dorm. In short, nothing that any self-respecting, competitive, turf-guarding, wolf-ticket selling, media-understanding guy wouldn't do.
Nonetheless, these incidents have engaged Miller in such flaming controversy that one would have thought women's basketball was some sort of ruffled Victorian cotillion. Wrong. This is Pete Rose barreling spikes high into Mark Gastineau doing his sack dance on Tree Rollins biting the bald spot of Marvin Hagler punching out whatever lights are left on Howard Cosell. We're talking serious here. Last Blood: Rambonetta.