CHICAGO — Bob Cousy and John Stockton somehow played point guard until the age of 41, which is flat-out ancient for pro basketball. In a league of ankle-breaking kids, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd amazingly made it to 40.
At 38, Andre Miller is the fifth-oldest active player in the NBA. With that little hitch in his dribble, it is tempting to watch him waddle upcourt for the Washington Wizards and wonder two things: whether his social security number is 1 and is it true his high school back court included Moses.
Really, when Miller was born, maybe several centuries ago, was the Dead Sea even sick yet?
“To be truthful, I don’t feel all that old,” said Miller, John Wall’s backup from, like, the Paleolithic era. “I can still do the same things that the younger guys do; I just don’t waste that amount of energy going between the legs and doing a lot of crossovers. I already had the opportunity to do that in my career.”
Miller has played 15 NBA seasons and 1,126 of a possible 1,129 regular season games. Just eight players have doled out more assists in the history of the game. Five are already Hall of Famers, and Nash and Kidd will be there someday. He has seen and done just about everything in this league — except win a playoff series.
“I was shocked,” Wall said when Miller told him a few days ago before the Wizards left Washington. “I was like, ‘Damn, I thought for sure you went to the second round or third round once.’ He said, ‘Naw, I’ve never been out of the first round.’ ”
After the Wizards’ gratifying double-digit comeback in the series opener against Chicago on Sunday night, the historical stat of the day in Washington sports is that the pro hoops team in the nation’s capital had not won a Game 1 in a series since 1986. Reagan was still in office, gas was 93 cents a gallon and stamps, at 22 cents, were still used in volume. Nene was a 4-year-old Brazilian hellion often being told no-no, “probably causing trouble with other kids in day care.” Marcin Gortat was a 2-year-old bean Pole, “still in diapers, probably.” Wall was 4 years — from being born. “My mom hadn’t even thought about bringing me out of the womb,” he said.
Miller? He was already 10. “I probably watched that game,” he said before the Wizards’ off-day practice in Chicago. He says he and his veteran point-guard counterpart in the series, the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich, 33, have talked during actual games about their career longevity.
“Sometimes we’ll be on the court at the free throw line and be like, ‘Man, how old are you? How much longer you gonna play?’ ” Miller said. “We kind of keep it short, just, ‘Stay healthy and keep pushing.’ ”
Miller has been pushing for 15 years. Fifty-three playoff games, five teams later, he still hasn’t pushed through to the second round. Even Tracy McGrady broke his 0-for-8 first-round playoff streak last season, albeit as a seldom-used reserve for the Spurs.
Miller was 0 for 9 with Denver, Philadelphia and Portland. Having missed just three games to injury in his career, he should be as desperate as he is durable.
But he doesn’t see it that way.
“There’s a lot of guys who have never been to the playoffs,” Miller said. “So at least I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy some great playoff environments: Phoenix, Portland, Dallas, my Denver days, Philly. Some good times. So whether I made it out of the first round or not, I’ve played in some great environments.”
He is asked whether he feels his career as a postseason player is star-crossed.
“Some players had the opportunity to play with those marquee superstars to get them out of the first round,” Miller said. “You know, I’ve played with Carmelo [Anthony], Nene and Marcus Camby. But we just ran against some megastars. The Kevin Garnetts, Dwight Howards, [guys] like that.”
The guy who brought him in to back up Wall and organize the offense, team President Ernie Grunfeld, thinks Miller’s drought is just one of those statistical anomalies.
“How does Wilt Chamberlain only win two championships?” Grunfeld said. “Circumstances. Where you’re playing. Who you’re playing with. Who you’re playing against.
“Andre is so calm and experienced. I’m glad we were able to get him.”
So are Nene and Bradley Beal and, really, everybody who plays with Miller, who makes the game so easy when he steps on the court. Like Sunday night, the way he worked a two-man game at times with Nene, threading passes to his center through tiny crevices between Bulls defenders.
Or the 10 points he scored in the final quarter, moving in closer to the goal, taking and making the shots he needed to with the game in the balance.
Miller has an intrinsic feel for the game, an intuition when the big man coming to pick for him is about to slip the screen and roll toward the basket or simply when to set a pick himself.
He has that old-dude-at-the-Y game: moves like molasses, vertical leap measured with a Visa gold card, low-release point on his jumper, awkward stutter-step — and somehow, some way, no youngster 10 to 20 years his junior can still check him.
“I try mentally to stay a step ahead of the game,” he said. “I figure, you know, I know I can already score the ball. But if I can continue to help people get better around me and take advantage of certain situations, then I’ll be productive and on the court.
“I never looked at it as what I can’t do for a team. It’s what I can do. That’s what I pride myself on.”
Here’s the other way to look at Miller’s 15-year, 0-for-9 playoff series drought: He’s just like Wall and Beal, trying to scale the mountain for the first time despite his age.
“That’s what I told them: that I don’t know how much experience I can give you as far as winning a series goes in my career. Maybe a little bit. But I’m like you: I’m hungry.”
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.