SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 20, 1985
As she kicks off her fourth college season, USC's Cheryl Miller is a big star in a town that has a lot of them
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November 20, 1985

Lights! Camera! Cheryl!

As she kicks off her fourth college season, USC's Cheryl Miller is a big star in a town that has a lot of them

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It is quite possible that, after all these years, Cheryl Miller has become less a phenomenon on a basketball court, where she is surrounded by women of similar size, proportions, age and sweaty grunginess, than off one. This has to do not so much with her 6'3" height—Miller suggests she is closer to 6'2" but, unlike the boys, the girls always cheat down—which is nonetheless striking in civilian life, as it does with a personality, a look and bearing, a commanding presence that Miller seems able to adjust chameleonlike, according to the situation. She is the world, she is the children. Do cute, Cheryl. Or do vamp. And it's done. Miller used to favor high-necked lace blouses for dress-up and fishing hats for play. Now she is stopped by panic-stricken airport security agents for wearing a belt adorned with handcuffs. Miller can charm a Senate hearing with learned testimony on behalf of the Civil Rights Act of 1984 just as easily as she can get down and dirty with some in-your-face street talk. Let a TV guy snatch notes away from her before an interview and she won't skip a beat. "Oh, you want an impromptu" Miller will say.

Over just one recent 24-hour period in the magical kingdom of California, Miller was confronted by a man who offered a modeling career, by a woman who insisted she spurn all show-biz opportunities and head straight into politics, and by some friends who were driving near the USC campus theater-arts buildings named after George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and suggested to Miller that she demand that her big-screen movie debut be in something along the lines of Indiana Cheryl or E.T. Meets CM.

Even there in downtown Ellay on the hallowed sets of the University of Sporting Children ("the world's most expensive ghetto," as alumna Esther Williams described the place not long ago), than where there prances no more voluptuous nubility on the face of the earth, Miller is inimitable. Just the other day a USC song girl named Chatra (uh-huh), merely another of your basic drop-dead gorgeous monstos, rushed into Heritage Hall at USC to enlighten Miller on her crisis of the day: stretch marks. "Yeah, I've got 'em," Chatra said through her permanently pouting lips. "They're little and they're where only my husband will see them...if anybody ever marries me now with these horrible marks. Ugh. What do you do about these things? I'm really bumming out on life."

"Step into my office," Miller said.

Miller doesn't have an office at USC. Nor much pull, either. Oh, the local Pop-eyes might fork over an extra biscuit in culinary tribute, but her own university rudely nixed the release of a Miller come-hither photo spread: Cheryl in cocktail sheath and bathing suit. The official explanation was that the layout was "not representative of a USC student-athlete." Translation: too sexy. The point is that even without an office, without portfolio and, following this, her senior season as a Woman of Troy, maybe even without basketball, the vehicle that has launched her into, lo, these multifarious, phantasmagoric directons, Miller will be a star. Stay tuned. You'll love it.

With apologies to Wayne Gretzky, back on the hardwood Miller probably is the most dominating individual in a team sport of this era. Arguably she is the finest basketball player of her gender who ever lived. Miller's goal this final season is to play so spectacularly well that, as she says, "You can strike arguably" from that phrase. Fellow 1984 Olympian Kim Mulkey, now an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, says simply, "Women's basketball is Cheryl Miller." And beyond this: What athletes transcend their sport? How many transcend while still playing? Ruth, perhaps. Ali, maybe. Jackie Robinson. And now a 21-year-old black-magic woman and dyna-kid princess from down the lane in Riverside, Calif.

Before Miller was out of high school she had blithely scattered legacies in her wake as if they were pocketsful of posies. She was—and is and ever will be—excitement, intensity, flamboyance, a mode of excellence, a mood even. She is the Follow-through Hotdog Wrist. She is the on-court cartwheel. She is—for goodness sakes—a haircut. Little girls all over the basketball yards of California now come turned out in "Cheryl Miller" 'dos. Miller's own younger brother, UCLA's estimable 6'7" junior forward Reggie, the most valuable player in last year's NIT, is a budding star in his own right. But on the road he is yet a haunted creature of disdain for opposing crowds who wail "Cher-yl, Cher-yl" at the poor fellow whenever he steps to the foul line. In the words of their father, Saul Miller, "They put the 'Cheryl' on him something fierce." Whew! She's not heavy, she's my sister.

It stands to reason that upon ultimately hanging it up—and the future options include everything from a wild-card spot in the next NBA draft to expatriation in the European leagues to a fresh start in a broadcasting career—Cheryl Miller will be remembered not only as a great basketball player and a female legend but now a chant. Undoubtedly, too, she will remain a certified sporting style.

Moreover, thinking back, if it seems Miller has been all of this forever, she has been. There was the 105-point game at Poly High in Riverside. Poly's 84-game winning streak. The two NCAA championship teams at USC. The electrifying Grammy awards cameo appearance during She Works Hard For The Money—Donna Summer is still wondering what hit her. The Olympic gold medal. Magazine covers in Japan and India. The BBC on hold. Chats with Ronald Reagan, not to mention Cagney and Lacey. A Face the Nation guest shot. Kissy-kissy with Barbara Walters. Rick Dees!

Cheryl Miller? Is that Cheryl Miller still around?

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