"Baby Jordan" at USC

Harold Miner doesn’t need to talk 

Today, Harold Miner lives a rather quiet life. 

The former USC All-American, NBA lottery pick, and two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion has largely avoided the public spotlight since leaving the NBA in 1996 after four seasons. Save offering some comments to the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year about his daughter, Kami, a standout on the Stanford volleyball team, Miner has shunned interviews. 

On the hardwood, though, Miner was anything but quiet. 

Miner first appeared on basketball radars as a rising star at Inglewood High near L.A. As a junior, he averaged 27 points per game for the Sentinels and was regarded as one of the top prep talents in California. Of Miner, a 6-3 shooting guard with crazy hops and a bald head reminiscent of the world’s greatest shooting guard, a rival coach said: “Nobody can do the things Harold Miner can do.” 

Some called Miner “Little Michael.” Others took to calling him “Baby Jordan.” 

Talent scout Bob Gibbons placed Miner among the nation’s top 25 players in the Class of 1989, joining a list headed by Kenny Anderson, Jimmy Jackson, and Allan Houston. Though Miner had eyes on North Carolina, the departure of assistant coach Roy Williams to take the head job at Kansas squashed those plans. In November of his senior year, Miner signed with hometown USC. 

By the time Miner arrived on the USC campus in fall 1989, the Baby Jordan nickname hovered over his name – and his game – but only locally in the pre-YouTube age. Pouring in 20 points a game for the Trojans, Miner drew comparisons to His Airness for his scoring ability, his highlight-reel dunks, his on-court mannerisms, and his number 23 jersey. Humbly and often, Miner tried to slow the hype train. 

“I have a long way to go to be considered in that status,” he said. “It’s a little unfair. I’m only a freshman.” 

Miner, of course, had firsthand knowledge of Jordan’s greatness, of a bar so exceptionally high that not even Miner’s 44-inch vertical leap could come close to reaching it. In the summer of 1986, after his first year at Inglewood High, Miner went one-on-one against MJ at Rod Higgins’ basketball camp in Fresno. Miner described that meeting to the Orange County Register in 1990 like this: 

“We were playing to five by ones, make-it-take-it, and I went ahead, 4-0. I took a jump shot that I thought was going to go in, but Michael grabbed it out of midair, dunked it, and I never saw the ball again.” 

Though Miner earned Pac-10 Rookie of the Year and league first-team honors as a freshman, his notoriety largely existed on the West Coast alone. But early in his sophomore season, the Miner Show traveled east. In dropping 35 points in a USC victory at Notre Dame, Miner catapulted himself onto the national basketball scene as the Trojans emerged a legit March Madness threat. 

After averaging nearly 24 points per game as a sophomore and leading the long-suffering Trojans to a third-place finish in the Pac-10 and an NCAA Tournament appearance, Miner’s reputation – and the Baby Jordan moniker – became even more commonplace on the college basketball scene. Dick Vitale called Miner the best thing to happen to USC since football. 

Behind the scenes, Miner remained humble and a student of the sport. He devoured black-and- white tapes of previous greats, picking up ball handling tricks from Cousy and body positioning tips from the Big O. 

Miner’s first two seasons at USC were but a prelude to his junior campaign, where the sweet- shooting lefty generated buzz about basketball on a campus that favors its pigskin. The Trojans, who had won no more than 11 games in any of the four seasons prior to Miner’s arrival, were a Top 25 team with wins over #4 Ohio State and at #2 UCLA on their resume. When the rival Bruins visited the L.A. Sports Arena on Feb. 27, 1992, USC notched its first basketball sellout in 13 years. 

In a city of stars, Miner had become a must-see attraction. 

By the time USC entered March Madness, a national top 10 team behind Miner’s 26 points per game average, Baby Jordan euphoria had swept the nation. 

“You can't stop the guy,” Notre Dame coach John MacLeod said of Miner. 

While Miner’s junior season ended in the NCAA Tournament’s second round with a 79-78 loss to Georgia Tech, there was no denying Miner’s dynamic influence on the college game. A consensus All American alongside Shaq, Christian Laettner, Alonzo Mourning, and Jimmy Jackson, Miner had elevated USC’s national standing beyond football and dazzled fans. 

When Miner announced he was foregoing his final season of eligibility at USC to enter the 1992 NBA Draft, he pledged to donate $60,000 to USC’s athletic department to repay the cost of his athletic scholarship. In 2012, USC retired Miner’s number 23 jersey. 

The self-selected quiet life that followed Miner’s short-lived NBA career was by choice, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. 

“I’ve kind of purged my system and come to a point of accepting what happened with my career: that I wasn’t able to live up to my own personal expectations,” Miner told his hometown newspaper. 

Whether by the weight of his own expectations or those unforgivingly thrust upon him with the Baby Jordan nickname, here’s the truth: at USC, Harold Miner was one of one, a talent who captivated and awed and rooted himself in college basketball lore. 

Miner’s life today might be quiet, but his game was deafening.