Harold Miner has to just laugh about some of the rumors about him floating around on the internet.
Like the ones about Miner being in the witness protection program. Or working at a Jack in the Box in Los Angeles. Or being a member of the LAPD and becoming an ordained minister.
“Oh my goodness, it’s crazy,” said Miner, now 39.
The truth is much less sensationalistic. Miner now resides in Las Vegas with his wife, seven-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. He currently isn’t working and still lives off the over $20 million he made during a brief NBA career which – unlike many pro athletes – he managed and invested very diligently.
Miner says the biggest misconception about him is that he’s a recluse, but such speculation about his whereabouts has become common since he last appeared in the NBA in 1996 because he hasn’t been interviewed in over a decade.
He has rejected countless requests to speak with the fan favorite who earned the nickname “Baby Jordan” by winning two NBA Slam Dunk contests and dazzling crowds with his highlight-reel dunks. Even now, he only calls from a blocked phone number in an interview arranged through a former USC sports information director.
“I’m really kind of dumbfounded as to why people would be interested in reading a story about me,” Miner said. “I haven’t played in almost 15 years and I haven’t done anything significant on a national scale since my junior year at SC almost 20 years ago. It’s a trip, actually.”
Seeing how he hasn’t spoken publicly in so long, there’s a couple things he wants to get off his chest. Specifically, he thanked his fans for all their support over the years, gave props to fellow Inglewood legend Paul Pierce for becoming an NBA star and even apologized to writers that covered him in Miami – Ira Winderman and Shaun Powell – for not being himself there because of his disappointing stay on South Beach.
So why now is Miner finally ready to speak?
“I just think it’s time,” Miner said. “It’s been a long time.”
It certainly has. Miner became a household name almost two decades ago as a junior at USC by piling up points and dunks during the 1991-92 season. Miner had the shaved head, No. 23 jersey, MJ mannerisms and the spectacular slams that reminded many of “His Airness.” Suddenly, the “Baby Jordan” nickname he picked up on the playgrounds of Inglewood had spread across the nation and made him a star, something he always grappled with.
“I probably never got used to being in the spotlight,” Miner said. “I’d say it’s always been uncomfortable for me, not natural for me.”
Miner led USC to a No. 2 seed in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, becoming USC’s all-time leading scorer (a record he still holds) and earning Sports Illustrated’s college basketball’s Player of the Year award over LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal and Duke’s Christian Laettner. But the storybook season came to an abrupt end when Georgia Tech’s James Forrest knocked the Trojans out of the second round on a legendary buzzer-beating three-pointer. Weeks later, Miner held an emotional press conference to announce he would be turning pro.
Taken 12th overall in the ’92 draft, the lefty swingman was expected to become a scoring and marketing machine. He signed a five-year, $7.3-million contract with the Heat as a rookie and an endorsement deal with Nike reportedly worth $14 million. But he never came close to reaching expectations, averaging under 10 points a game in his three years in Miami. Hobbled by injuries, Miner was criticized for his poor defense and wayward outside shooting
He still had marketability after winning the 1993 and 1995 NBA Slam Dunk Contests (he could’ve had a three-peat if a knee injury didn’t sideline him in 1994), so Cleveland took a chance on Miner with a trade in June of 1995. But he rode the pine there as well and his ’96 season ended with knee surgery after averaging just three points per game.
Given one last shot by the Toronto Raptors before the 1997 season, Miner says he slipped on a wet spot and severely sprained the same knee, leaving him with no mobility and the writing on the wall.
“For the whole two weeks I was in Toronto I couldn’t sleep – I didn’t sleep at all,” Miner said. “I think I knew that that was it.”
And just like that, Miner’s career was over at the age of 25.
“A lot of people don’t understand why I stopped playing was because I had two knee surgeries and I had a degenerative joint in my knee, so it was just too much wear and tear, and I ended up with very little cartilage in my knee,” Miner said.
After returning to Southern California following his career, Miner found a new home in Las Vegas and dabbled in buying and selling real estate. His new fix is nutrition. Miner says he’s lost 45 pounds with his personal trainer in the last year after reaching 280 pounds.
That’s not the only change he’s made recently, as Miner’s now finally reaching out to old friends and even USC to try and reconnect to his “basketball roots.” Miner says he’s even considering seeing a USC game or two next season.
Given the current state of Miner’s scandal-ridden alma mater and the way fans have longed for years to hear from the Trojan legend, it could be the loudest ovation in the Galen Center all year.