When Miami Heat guard Mike Miller steps out onto the court in the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Sunday night, he’ll have his teammates standing with him, but the former NBA Rookie of the Year will have a bigger team supporting him from the sidelines.
Over the last few years, Miller has developed a close friendship both personally and professionally with several mixed martial arts fighters and he’s been adopted into their family and them into his.
Miller has been a huge fan of MMA for a long time, and as of last summer he became a part owner in Power MMA & Fitness, a new facility in Arizona that stands as the home for UFC mainstays like Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway and Aaron Simpson. His initial introduction to MMA actually came a few years earlier however with a well-known knockout artist who now is a lead trainer at their gym in Arizona.
The Miami Heat guard first became acquainted with current Strikeforce middleweight Robbie Lawler a few years back while running a charity event in Mississippi. Miller’s manager, David Martin, helped to organize celebrities and athletes to attend the event that benefits the Mike Miller Foundation, a group dedicated to children’s charities.
“First of all, Mike is a huge fan of MMA and one thing that Mike and I are very proud of that we’ve put together is what we’ve done with his foundation. He would do a big celebrity poker event in Tunica, Mississippi, at the Horseshoe, which was just over the river from Memphis when he was playing with the Grizzlies. We always invited celebrities to the event, Justin Timberlake, Daunte Culpepper, Tracy McGrady, etc. Robbie Lawler ended up coming over to the event and was the first mixed martial artist to attend Mike’s event and we became very close with Robbie, became great friends,” Martin explained.
Martin, a criminal attorney by trade who has represented athletes such as Daunte Culpepper, Adam “Pacman” Jones, and others, decided to get into athlete management and then opened an MMA division. Since that time he added names like Bader, Dollaway, Simpson and UFC lightweight contender Gray Maynard.
Unlike many managers or agents whose athletes may never even meet, Martin wants all of his clients to be like a family, and a family has grown out of business.
Now Miller is not only partners with the UFC trio in a gym, but they remain in constant contact throughout the season and off season to support each other.
When UFC middleweight Aaron Simpson stepped into the cage with Chris Leben in June 2010 he had never known what defeat in MMA tasted like. Unfortunately for the former Arizona State wrestler he found out that night, but when the fight was over he was greeted by his good friend Mike Miller who shared words of inspiration that helped him push through it.
“He was up in the stands when I lost to Leben and I just hit a wall, I did not feel myself, and I talked to him right after the fight and he’s like ‘I don’t know how many times I’ve walked onto the court and my legs just weren’t there, I couldn’t hit the backboard if I wanted to’ and I think that was really cool to hear from him,” Simpson said.
“Two completely different sports but at the highest levels people still hit a wall at times, and I think he has an admiration for us and we feel the same way.”
The outpouring from the fighters has also helped Miller through his 2010-11 campaign with the Miami Heat. Signing with the team as a free agent in the summer of 2010, Miller was on the hunt for his first ever NBA title.
What resulted for the former Florida Gator was a season plagued by injuries, something he’s never felt before during his nearly 10 year NBA career. Pushing through the pain is something his MMA teammates have become accustomed to, and Miller found some of his strength through seeing what his fighter friends go through on a daily basis when they need to compete.
“We are all professional athletes. This is what we chose to do for a living and nagging injuries are part of the game. I know that all of these guys have pushed through injuries. I’ve had a lot of discussions with Dave about my injuries and what we should do. It’s been tough, with the thumbs, concussions and the shoulder. In talking with Dave, I knew what Gray (Maynard) was going through with all of his injuries preparing for the third fight with Frankie (Edgar) and when Frankie got hurt it was a blessing in disguise for Gray. But if Frankie hadn’t pulled out I’ll bet Gray would have been in the Octagon last weekend,” Miller told MMAWeekly.com in an interview before heading to Dallas for game three of the NBA finals.
“That is what is like for me. I have a chance to win a championship and this is why I came to Miami. It isn’t about the money, it is about winning a championship.”
The friendship between the fighters and Miller hit a very personal place over the last couple of weeks.
While in the midst of a playoff run, Miller’s wife gave birth to their first daughter, Jaelyn. Unfortunately for the youngest Miller she was born with ventricular septal defect, which is essentially four holes in her heart that caused problems with her breathing.
Jaelyn has since been released to go home with her family, but Miller knew that he had to keep playing, and again his friends in the MMA world stepped up to show support for their friend in need.
“I’ll bet you every client I have from Gray Maynard on down have shot a text or talked to me about how his daughter’s doing and I’ve passed every message on to Mike and it means the world to him,” Martin said. “These guys genuinely care about each other, they care about how they’re playing in their respective sports, but also how they’re doing in their personal lives and they’re there for each other. We’ve really developed a close knit friendship.”
Miller has heard from his teammates in the MMA world time and time again throughout the playoffs and after his daughter was born and the support has helped lift his spirits in a very tough and emotional time.
Even with the Mike Miller Foundation, it’s a constant from the MMA world that has supported him for years.
“It means more than they will ever know,” Miller said about the fighters’ support. “This has been a tough time for my family. We are managed by the same guy, we are business partners in an amazing facility, but more importantly we are friends.
“I have had a lot of big time celebrities and athletes attend my fundraising events, but I can always count on my friends in the MMA community. CB, Bader and Simpson have been there the past couple of years and the two constants that I can count on year in and year out are Udonis Haslem and Robbie Lawler. All great guys and great friends.”
Miller also has two sons, Mason and Maverick, and along with his wife Jennifer they have supported children’s charities since the first day he entered the NBA. Miller has donated over a million dollars to Sanford Children’s, as well as donations to St. Jude’s and working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Now that his family is going through a medical ordeal of their own, Miller is happier than ever that he could provide the type of support he has to other families that have needed the best medical care when their children are in need.
“It is very important. It is very rewarding to be able to help people in need,” Miller commented. “We made our million dollar donation to Sanford Children’s and the 250K donation to St. Jude when we had two healthy boys. Now I have been on the other side and seen the medical care that we have received, it makes me proud to know that I have been able to help other children.”
Simpson, who has children of his own, has been in constant contact with Miller throughout this ordeal and understands the pain he’s going through. It’s something every parent fears and to be there for a friend is something Simpson is happy to do.
“It’s scary and until you have kids and you can see their little faces and know that they’re completely helpless without you and then something like that happens, like what happened with his daughter, you just feel completely helpless,” Simpson said.
Whether it’s helping through the situation with his daughter in the hospital or talking about injuries during the season, even though Miller may be an NBA player, he’s part of an MMA team at home.
“He’s one of us and we feel like we are all a team,” Simpson said about Miller. “I’ve watched a lot of his games this season, it’s been really hard the injuries he’s gone through. I know getting older what it’s like and he’s never had anything like this before, never had a season just plagued with injuries. The fact that he’s putting it together right now despite being beat up, he’s have a pretty good run here in the playoffs. We’re all supporting him and he knows that.”
The support from his MMA team will be in person in Dallas on Sunday night as UFC middleweight C.B. Dollaway will be in attendance to watch the Heat play the Mavericks, as he roots for his friend and business partner.
Miller will repay the support he’s received during the NBA season in just a few weeks when he travels to Las Vegas when Ryan Bader faces Tito Ortiz and Aaron Simpson takes on Brad Tavares at UFC 132. Miller even plans on walking out with the fighters during the weigh-ins just to show his added support.
When the next few weeks are over, Miller is hopeful that his daughter Jaelyn will be healthy and happy at home, Bader and Simpson will both have wins under their belts, and of course he’ll have lifted the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy over his head.
“It is all worth while right now,” Miller stated. “A tough year personally could turn out to be the best year of my career. But first we got to get by a very tough Dallas team.”
Miller will look to help his team do that very thing with game three Sunday night in Dallas.