USC would love to honor Harold Miner, its all-time scoring leader in men’s basketball. The Trojans would love to post Miner’s considerable accomplishments on the Galen Center scoreboard -- All-American, 23.5-point scoring average, Sports Illustrated national player of the year, 4-2 record against UCLA -- and trot him out to center court so a capacity crowd could shower him with applause.
If only they could find him.
TNT would have loved to interview Miner last season for a television special documenting the most spectacular dunks in the history of the NBA’s annual slam dunk competition, won twice by the gravity-defying Miner.
If only he’d returned calls.
But he hasn’t.
Miner, so spectacular a performer that he was dubbed “Baby Jordan” while still a prep star at Inglewood High, has retreated into semi-seclusion, friends say. They say that the former Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers guard, nearly 11 years removed from an unremarkable NBA career that ended after 3 1/2 seasons and only 200 games, lives outside Las Vegas with his wife and their young daughter. Other than his family, his main interest, he has told friends, is buying and selling real estate.
No surprise to his old comrades, Miner, 35, did not return calls from The Times requesting an interview for this story.
Even for old friends, it seems, he’s not easy to reach.
“For the most part, he has kind of dropped off the face of the earth in terms of his basketball connections,” says Gary Pine, a former USC sports publicist who kept in contact with Miner for several years after Miner left school and, in August 1999, attended Miner’s lavish wedding at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Says Duane Cooper, a former USC teammate who says he last spoke to his reclusive friend after running into him at SeaWorld San Diego two summers ago and chatting him up for about an hour: “It’s very difficult to get ahold of him.”
Adds Cooper: “He’s fine. He just enjoys being anonymous.”
George Raveling, the former USC coach, hopes Miner is not still fretting over the inability to live up to expectations.
“You don’t see much of him, and I often wonder if it’s because he feels like he was a failure because he didn’t make it in the league when everybody thought he was going to be a star,” says Raveling, now a Nike representative. “I always felt the worst thing to happen to Harold was the ‘Baby Jordan’ tag.”
He wore it well at USC, where in three seasons the left-hander came to be as well known for his quirky mannerisms -- touching his nose to teammates as well as inanimate objects, rubbing his fingers together near his ears because he enjoyed the sound it made, caressing the ball before shooting free throws -- as his electrifying scoring touch. The Trojans, 26-62 in the three seasons before his arrival, were 55-32 in Miner’s three seasons, twice reaching the NCAA tournament.
In the 1991-92 season, when Shaquille O’Neal was a junior at Louisiana State and Alonzo Mourning a senior at Georgetown, the USC junior was Sports Illustrated’s pick as national college player of the year.
He tearfully announced that he was turning pro, was taken by the Heat with the 12th pick in the ’92 draft and signed a five-year, $7.3-million contract. He signed an endorsement deal with Nike that reportedly was worth $14 million.
Miner was a fan favorite in Miami, where he was mostly utilized as a reserve and averaged 9.6 points and 20 minutes a game over three seasons, but his coaches questioned his shot selection and inattention to defense. Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, who played two seasons with him in Miami, says Miner struggled adjusting to a team concept after being given the green light to shoot at will in college.
Still, “if you isolated him inside and just gave him the ball,” Shaw adds, “he was virtually unstoppable because he just had that one-on-one, playground-type game and finished so strong. He was just a tremendous individual talent.”
In the last of his four NBA seasons, Miner averaged 3.2 points and 7.2 minutes for the Cavaliers before a knee injury ended his season. He played five scoreless minutes in his last NBA game, a 26-point loss to the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 20, 1996, and two weeks later had knee surgery.
He retired after the Toronto Raptors cut him in October 1996.
“When Cleveland let him go, he could have gone over to Greece for some big dollars,” Raveling says. “He probably would have played well enough over there that he could’ve come back to the NBA and played, or at least he would have made a substantial amount of money.
“But Harold was always kind of a loner and a homebody, and he probably just didn’t feel like he could assimilate into a foreign culture.”
Pine says that when he joined Miner for lunch not long after the Raptors cut him, Miner left the impression that he’d had enough of professional basketball.
“He indicated that he wasn’t fond of the lifestyle,” Pine says.
Pine, now associate athletic director at Azusa Pacific, remembers telling his friend that, no matter what, he would always have a home at USC.
“I said, ‘Harold, you can be the favorite son of USC basketball for a long time because of the good memories they have of your time there,’ ” Pine says. “I said, ‘If you remain friendly to USC, they’re going to love you, they’re going to help you, they’re going to be your biggest supporter.’
“For whatever reason, that wasn’t of great interest to him.”