Unlike hit on Griffin, Miller’s rant is off mark

Matt Calkins: Commentary

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“If you don’t buy the premise, you don’t buy the bit.”

— Johnny Carson

I remember reading a column from about 10 years back by a writer disgusted with America’s overly-politically-correct nature.

She lamented that people were suppressing ideas for fear of being labeled an “ist” of some kind, and blasted leaders and interest groups who perpetuated this anxiety.

It had all the makings of a relatable, inspiring, fight-the-power-type rant — except for one problem: The column was written in response to the nationwide shunning of former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, who offended just about every conceivable minority group in an anger-laced interview with Sports Illustrated.

Unfortunately for the columnist, Rocker’s prejudicial tirade is the type of thing people should try and silence.

So while her words could have opened some eyelids, they likely did the opposite.

And that’s where Andre Miller comes in.

Sunday the Blazers point guard pretended that he was an asteroid and Blake Griffin a planet, sprinting 75 feet down the floor and pummeling the unsuspecting Clippers rookie to the ground.

Miller’s guided-missile attack was retribution for Griffin pushing him in the back twice within a minute — and amazingly, neither Griffin nor Miller were called for a foul.

Hardly remorseful, Miller said after the game that he wished he would have hit Griffin harder — that he would have been content with a flagrant foul and just wanted to send a message.

Well, the next day the NBA sent him one instead — suspending Miller for a game and rendering his consecutive-games-played streak of 632 kaput.

At first I thought Miller’s retaliation was childish, that the only “message” he was sending was that personal pride trumped staying on the court. But then the late Maurice Lucas popped into my head, and I couldn’t help but think that the old Blazers “Enforcer” reached down with his massive right hand and fist bumped Miller after the collision.

It was Lucas, after all, who slugged the instigating Darryl Dawkins in the 1977 NBA Finals and completely shifted the emotional momentum Portland’s way. So maybe Miller trucking the indestructible Griffin would provide a similar lift.

Or maybe not.

Miller fielded questions about the whole situation Wednesday and sounded off on the NBA like a teenager on Maury Povich.

He said the suspension wasn’t justified, that the league didn’t care about his streak, that it favors young guys and that players can’t be nearly as physical as they once could. He squawked that the NBA has become “soft,” that the rules apply to some and not others, that teammate Marcus Camby whacked someone in the face that same game and wasn’t suspended, and that reputed “dirty” players such as John Stockton were never forced to sit out.

It was extraordinary theater, no doubt. But you can’t buy the bit with this one. The premise just isn’t there.

Miller barreling Griffin wasn’t some covert poke or hold that nasty players tend to get away with. It was a premeditated bull-rush designed to inflict pain. Pitchers who target batters’ heads and hockey players who swing their sticks at faces are susceptible to suspensions, so why wouldn’t Miller be as well?

Shoot, Brian Cook, who shoved Blazers center Joel Przybilla to the ground mid-flight on an open dunk, was tossed from that same contest and forced to sit two additional games as a result. And while the penalty was well-deserved, Cook’s push was reactionary, not something calculated from one free-throw line to the next.

The sad thing is, a lot of what Miller said might be true.

The league has discouraged more physical play in recent years. The NBA very well might favor younger players, an argument evidenced by Griffin repeatedly heading to the foul line after the slightest of brushes.

Certain rules do apply to some and not others — but Miller cripples his credibility on the subjects by citing his suspension as proof.

He can’t compare his hit on Griffin to Camby’s seemingly unintentional face smack. He can’t put it on par with Stockton’s crafty, albeit shady, grabs and stiff arms.

And while he argues that certain players get more leeway, can you imagine the reaction if it were the 250-pound Griffin drilling Miller into the ground?

Andre should have just gone “Cool Hand Luke” with his punishment — accepted it gracefully and said “yeah, I’ll sit one game, two games or a whole week if it means standing up for myself and my team. And I can’t wait to see Griffin again in January.”

Personally, I think most of Miller’s anger stems from losing his streak. It was a testament to his durability; a distinguishing characteristic for that classic “old school” type player.

A little ironic that a “tough guy” action cost him the ultimate “tough guy” stat, no?

And for the record, I have loads of respect for Miller’s game, intelligence and candor. He’s the consummate professional who doesn’t shy away from offering insightful, authentic, and sometimes controversial opinions. Hopefully that never changes.

But I also think his beefing with the NBA was the wrong battle to pick, that it’s fueled more by pride than it is logic.

So one day after being forced to sit out, it might have been wise for Miller to suspend some of his thoughts as well.

Matt Calkins is the Blazers beat writer for The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or e-mail matt.calkins@columbian.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter.