Boardroom breaks down the experience and relationship building it took to bring the then-Duke draft prospect to LIFT.
The story of how baller-turned-agent Mike Miller came to sign one of the NBA’s top talents began two decades ago.
It was April 3, 2000, and Miller was watching as Michigan State celebrated across the court in Indianapolis, cutting down the nets as new national champions.
Around the RCA Dome, Florida fans wept while Spartan players each took turns climbing the ladder. In the middle of it all was Miller, the Gator guard/forward who started as a sophomore and scored 10 in the loss.
Eight eventual NBA players — and one future owner — occupied the hardwood that night, unsure of their future, but certain of the moment. Months later, life would change for each one of them.
Especially for Miller.
Declaring for the draft in the days to follow, Miller was selected fifth overall by the Orlando Magic.
His early success came from killing it on the court — scoring 12 points a night and shooting 40% from three.
“I just wanted to hoop,” Miller told Boardroom’s Rich Kleiman on Out of Office.
“I love hoop, and that’s why I’m in the business I am now.”
That business? Being president of LIFT Sports Management and ascending as one of the top agents in the NBA.
Just like he took a chance on his talent in 2000 by entering the draft, so too did MiIler’s top client, Paolo Banchero.
As the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Banchero is the centerpiece on a young Orlando Magic roster.
He has already signed an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand and is a front-runner for Rookie of the Year.
While he acknowledges that he and his client are on similar paths, Miller believes Banchero will become a perennial NBA All-Star.
“I would bet everything that he is one of those dudes we talk about for a long time,” Miller said.
So, how did Miller make the transition from the backcourt to the front office? And what did it take to sign a guy like Banchero?
Boardroom breaks down Miller’s storied second career and how he signed basketball’s next big thing.
Miller made his much-anticipated NBA debut on Halloween night in 2000.
He scored five points. The next two nights, his minutes wavered, taking L’s as a team and staying in the single digits in scoring.
Then things started to shift. Quickly, he was putting up 19 points a game. On some nights, he’d sniff close to 30, helping the Magic make the playoffs and establishing himself as a starter.
Such experiences — success, and struggles — appear to serve Miller well as an agent.
“A lot of that comes with my experience,” Miller said. “Because I know when a guy goes 1-for-7 where he’s at in his head.”
Serving as a mentor to Banchero, Miller has first-person insight into his client’s mindset.
But thus far, the valleys for Banchero have been few. He erupted for 27 points, nine rebounds, and five assists in his Magic debut. He has started every game, averaging over 20 points a night.
Still, when Banchero scored four points in a blowout loss to LeBron and the Lakers, Miller had the ear, understanding, and voice to take his client back to a place of confidence. It’s a perspective that only Miller can offer as an agent, but it stems from a relationship the two formed when they had different team ties.
According to Front Office Sports, Miller was one of the first coaches to offer Banchero a scholarship during his recruiting days at Memphis. Serving as an assistant to Penny Hardaway, Miller’s eye for talent and ability to connect with kids made him one of the best in the business.
“It was the bridge to where I’m at,” Miller said of his time with Memphis.
Miller first found Banchero when he was still a high school underclassman in Seattle. His casual confidence and name recognition appear to have left a mark with the top prospect.
Though Washington’s walking highlight reel signed his letter of intent with Coach K at Duke, the relationship remained as Miller kept in contact with Banchero strictly off the love and potential.
Around the time Banchero was actually old enough to make his college decision and eventually declare for the draft, Miller had moved on from Memphis and was two years into his current passion project at LIFT.
The combination of Miller’s NBA career, high school coaching experience, and college recruiting run primed him for his new job as an agent and appealed to his current clients, who range from Banchero to the likes of RJ Hampton and Wendell Carter Jr.
“If you’re about hoop and really wanting to be better and be the best basketball player ever?” Miller said. “LIFT is a great spot for you.”
With multiple lottery picks to Miller’s name, there really is no limit for what’s next for him and LIFT.
23 years ago when Doc Rivers drafted Miller to the Magic, the basketball landscape was much different.
Entering the NBA with an ample amount of hair gel and as the only pro to come out of South Dakota, Miller’s ceiling was high even if expectations were moderate.
Lasting in the league for 17 seasons, the former Gator added to his Rookie of the Year accolade by earning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in the 2005-06 season, and two NBA titles — all while being paid to play professionally.
Today, while occupying a different seat in the stands, Miller sees Bachero’s potential as limitless with the guidance of LIFT.
“Paolo’s biggest thing was how can I be the best basketball player?” Miller said. “He just cared about basketball and that’s rare because everyone in this day and age talks about marketing, social media, and all that stuff. He was just a hooper and he wanted to get better — he trusted us and he wanted to go down this journey with us. And we’re thankful for it because he’s really changed our life on the LIFT side of things.”
While Miller might exemplify ball above all in his ethos, he’s proved no slouch in the marketing game either.
Whether it was fighting feverishly to establish his client as the top pick or playing a part in Banchero’s major endorsement deal with Jordan Brand, Miller’s making sure that Banchero gets the right looks at the right time.
For Miller, it’s less about being everywhere at once like many agents attempt or trying to sign as many endorsement deals as possible to up the ante on their cut. Rather, it’s about positioning Banchero properly so he can earn on his image while staying focused on the game.
“I’m gonna be honest, I think he has a chance to be one of the best,” Miller said. “And I think he controls that. He’s just beginning to understand how freaking good he is. The one thing I will say about him and why I bet on him all day long is because he absolutely loves it and he dives into it. Every time I talk to him it’s about hoop. ‘How do I get better? What do we need to do to get better? I just wanna win.’ He’s saying all the right things, but he’s also doing it.”
As cliche as the term ‘built different’ has become, Miller believes Banchero possesses an elite DNA and magnificent mindset.
Miller’s star client is in a class of his own, raised by a former WNBA player and former Washington Huskies football player.
Already battling with the best in basketball and having grown up mentored by the likes of Jamal Crawford, Banchero already carries himself as a pro’s pro even if he’s only a few months into his NBA career.
“For a 20-year-old kid who went No. 1? I would bet everything that he’s gonna be one of those dudes that we talk about for the longest time,” Miller said. “KD said that actually after they played: he’s gonna be that dude. And I truly believe it as well, just because I know who he is as a kid. I know how hard he works.”
By becoming a LIFT athlete, Banchero is setting the bar and blueprint for those that will follow.
Already with a No. 1 pick on his resume, Miller has interest from talent in high school, college, and the G-League. Still, it’s all about intention when it comes to aligning with clientele.
“Does he fit who we are? Is he one of those guys that puts hoop first? Some guys want the social media — and we’ve built all that in — but is it that the first box you wanna check? If hoop ain’t the first box you wanna check? You might not be for us,” Miller said.
Until then, Miller and his team at LIFT remain committed to serving talent and bringing the best out of them.
Thus far, Banchero has proven to be the ultimate case study. Like Miller, he’s the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Also akin to his agent, Banchero possesses the power to push the Magic into the playoffs. And of course, both are battle-tested ballers that had their hearts broken in the Final Four before becoming NBA elite.
It’s the highs, lows, and everything in between that’s informed Miller as he takes Banchero to a level that could climax as an all-time great.
“I took a lot of the stuff that I learned through playing and what I liked and disliked about my agencies growing up,” Miller said. “I had the best agents in the world tell mean [Paolo] is freaking elite. How do we make that better? And it’s crazy to even say that. How do I take what I learned and saw and make it better?”
Leading all rookies in scoring and ranking in the top five for first year players in assists and rebounds, taking the 6’10 stud up a level is a tall task for anyone.
Thankfully, Miller appears to be the perfect man for the job.
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