The prodigy and the protégé – The pain of ‘Baby Jordan’ and the power of Kami Miner

KAMI MINER STANDS in a makeshift gym in the garage of her family’s Las Vegas home. Storage boxes line the back wall, and exercise gear — a leg press machine, a treadmill, a cycle, ropes and dumbbells — takes up the rest of the space. Her father points a camera at her.

“I’m about to do 30-inch box jumps,” says Kami, a USA sticker on her right cheek.

“You’re 10. And you’re about to do 30-inch box jumps? Are you serious?” her father asks, his voice deep.

Wearing a white tank top and her curly hair in a messy bun atop her head, Kami turns and looks at her father.

“Neck’s in a neutral position,” her father says. “Explode.”

Kami squats and pumps her arms. She jumps, tucks her knees to her chest. She lands like a ninja, her toes making contact with the box first. “Whoa!” her father says. He peppers her with instructions, tells her to hop, step and jump, like in volleyball. She hops, steps and jumps. She repeats the move three more times.

“Unbelievable talent,” her father says. “She is going to be a volleyball star, folks. Mark my words.”

Kami smiles at the camera.

“I get it all from my daddy.”

HAROLD MINER NEARLY fills the frame of the front door at his condo in Redondo Beach, California. Wearing a black hoodie, joggers and a black hat, backward, he stands, all 6-foot-5 of him, next to his wife, Pam. At 52, Miner has filled out since his NBA playing days, but his shy grin remains the same.

Miner doesn’t care for attention. In fact, for nearly 15 years after Miner’s basketball career ended, reporters tried and failed to get him to even answer his phone.

But now, he’s inviting me to spend time with him and his family in his home.

The two-bedroom condo is modest, painted in an off-white color. A few abstract art pieces hang on the walls. The brown sectional sofa in the living room is covered with memorabilia. Harold points to a red jersey. His eyes light up, and his grin gets wider. “She wore this when she played for Team USA for the first time,” he says. He points to a printed speech on the dining table. “This was in sixth grade. She talked about her dreams to play volleyball in the Olympics. She loved public speaking.” A laptop on a table contains folders titled “Pics for ESPN volleyball,” “Pics for ESPN childhood,” and “Kami’s Home Videos Training.”

He asks Pam, who is sitting in front of the computer, to click on one of the videos. Pam smiles. “They just loved training together,” she says.

The room contains no evidence of Harold’s accomplishments. He rolls his eyes when he’s asked why.

“It’s Kami’s time now,” he says. “It’s Kami’s story.”

What Harold Miner doesn’t say is this: Kami’s story might never have happened if not for his own story. Sports robbed him of his dream, spat him out, and left him with little more than regret and painful lessons he learned too late. Love profusely, he told his daughter, but not exclusively. Train with fervor, he instructed, but preserve your body. Distinguish yourself, he demanded, but fight off comparison. Today, Kami Miner is one of the best volleyball players in the country. She credits a man who could have been one of the best basketball players in the world.

“That was 30 years ago,” Harold Miner says. “Who cares?”

The Prodigy

THEY CALLED HIM “Baby Jordan.” Not at first, when Harold Miner was 6 and followed his father and brother to Normandie Park in Los Angeles to watch them and other older men jump and twirl on the basketball court, elbow each other and belly laugh.

And not when he devoured books about basketball, taking meticulous notes in the margins. “Heaven Is a Playground” by Rick Telander is one of his favorites. He loved watching “Pistol Pete” Maravich, Julius Erving and Magic Johnson on TV, and after processing what he saw, he would go back to the park and imitate their moves. For hours, for years.

The nickname might have originated in the summer of 1986, when Harold was going into his sophomore year of high school. Rod Higgins, who would play 13 seasons in the NBA, held a camp in Fresno, California, and Harold was invited. He won MVP of the entire thing. As he stood next to his campmates, cheesing, Michael Jordan, whom he had watched score 63 points against the Celtics in an NBA playoff game earlier that year, walked up to Harold and asked to play one-on-one. A five-point game, one point per basket. Harold took a 4-0 lead. No joke. I’m gonna win this, he thought.

“The next shot, I went to shoot the ball, he looked at me and went up, just flew in the air and just grabbed the ball out of the air, blocked my shot, and went and scored,” Harold says.

Jordan won 5-4.

Afterward, Jordan told him to keep grinding. Harold nodded, and his confidence soared.

By the time he was a junior at Inglewood High, everybody was calling him Baby Jordan. It wasn’t just that one-on-one game. Harold shaved his head. He soared above the rim. He dunked with style. At first, Harold loved the tag.

“When somebody compares you to the best player of all time, you’re going to take notice of it and it makes you feel like you’re on the right path,” he says.

He averaged 27 points in his junior season and 28 in his senior season.

Coach George Raveling recruited him to USC and told him he would build the struggling team around him. During his freshman season, wearing his No. 23 jersey, Harold could hear fans’ conversations during timeouts. “It was that empty,” he says. But Baby Jordan and his high-flying game became a draw, and he led the Trojans to the NCAA tournament as a sophomore.

By his junior year, in 1992, Harold walked into an arena that was regularly packed with fans holding Baby Jordan posters and screaming the nickname.

“I’d like to think that I played a pretty big role in that just because of my style of play and the way I played,” Harold says. “People were excited to come watch me play.”

He averaged 26.3 points per game and led the Trojans to a 24-6 record, but they fell in the second round of the tournament. Still, Harold was named Sports Illustrated Player of the Year ahead of future NBA stars such as Shaquille O’Neal, Christian Laettner and Alonzo Mourning. He skipped his senior season and left as the program’s career scoring leader.

When he was picked 12th in the 1992 NBA draft and walked up to collect his Miami Heat cap after hugging his crying mother, Baby Jordan was everywhere. People on the streets, strangers in restaurants and, almost every day, on TV.

“Now you start feeling the pressure of it because you realize that you’re a talented player,” Harold says. “But you’re not Michael Jordan.”

BABY JORDAN’S LEARNING curve in the NBA was steep, but by the time 1993 rolled around, he was getting more minutes and more points, including a stretch in January when he had three straight games of 20 or more points.

As a rookie, he was invited to compete in the 1993 slam dunk contest, and he clinched the title before his final dunk. He dribbled in from the left baseline, jumped with the ball clasped in his left hand, twirled 360 degrees and slammed it down. As he raised his hands in the air, the arena in Salt Lake City erupted in applause. He grinned as the commentator announced, “Our new Slam Dunk king.”

“Has ‘Baby Jordan’ grown up now?” the interviewer, Craig Sager, asked. Harold smiled. He couldn’t remember the last time he went through an interview without the nickname making its way into the conversation. “I think so. I came out here and represented myself well,” he said. “Hopefully this is the first of bigger and better things.”

Self-doubt already was creeping in. Midway through his rookie season, he began experiencing pain in his right knee. First it was a twinge. He felt it after a heavy practice session. It became persistent.

Some days, he would wake up pain-free and put up big numbers for the Heat. Other days, he couldn’t bend his knee at all.

“I started to lose that burst, that quickness and explosiveness that I had,” Harold says.

He finished the season — he even scored in double digits 10 times during the final month — and returned home to Los Angeles. Doctors diagnosed him with a torn meniscus and told him he needed surgery. All the years playing on asphalt growing up resulted in overuse. After his surgery, he spent months at home rehabbing before returning to Miami.

“My knee was never the same,” he says.

THERE WERE GAMES that provided glimpses of what could have been, like when he scored a team-high 28 points in a 111-80 home win over the Celtics on Dec. 11, 1993. But consistency never came. His knee wouldn’t allow it.

He appeared in just 45 games in the 1994-95 season. He also won his second slam dunk contest, something only Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan had done before him. He sat out the final six games of Miami’s season. Months later, the Heat traded him to the Cavaliers.

In Cleveland, he spent every day in pain. Doctors said he needed another surgery, this one more complicated. He had developed cysts in his right knee in addition to another torn meniscus. He played in just 19 games and went scoreless in seven of them.

Pam, whom he had been dating for a year, flew to Cleveland to support him through the surgery. She cooked him a catfish dish and brought it to the hospital. She slept in a chair next to his bed.

Cleveland released him at the end of the season. He flew to Toronto to try out with the Raptors. Basketball was all he wanted. He clung to hope.

During a training session, he slipped on a wet spot and landed on his right knee. Pain radiated through his leg. Doctors taped him up, ran some tests. The pit in his stomach never left. God, he felt, was telling him it was over. He was 25 years old. He had played in exactly 200 games. Fatefully, his last one was on Feb. 20, 1996, when he went scoreless in five minutes in a Cleveland loss to Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Later, Raveling said the Baby Jordan nickname was the “worst thing to happen to Harold.”

“I grew up studying the game, watching the game, being in love with the game and being a fan of the game,” Harold says. “And it felt like basketball was turning on me.”

Pacing his hotel room in Toronto late that night, Harold dialed Pam’s number.

“This is it,” he told her. “It’s over.”

HAROLD MINER STOPPED reading about basketball. He stopped watching it. He stopped responding to reporters requesting interviews. He gathered his awards and jerseys in boxes and put them in storage.

“I just didn’t want to deal with that, because I would just have to keep reliving it over and over and over and over again,” Harold says. “And why put yourself through that? Why torture yourself with that?”

There was one torture he chose to endure: the All-Star Game. The year after his retirement, in 1997, his stomach churned as he pressed the button on his remote from his home in Los Angeles. There was Jordan, strutting on Harold’s former home court in Cleveland. Tears streamed out of Harold’s eyes. He wiped them away and continued to watch. Jordan had a triple-double.

“I would cry because I always wanted to be an All-Star,” Harold says. ” And I never made the All-Star team.”

His mom tried to provide solace. She moved into his home. Just the two of them. Some days Harold sat quietly in her presence. Other days, he let his hurt and regrets tumble out. I gave basketball my everything. This is so unfair. Why me? She patiently listened, and told him he was enough, that basketball was just one part of his journey. He nodded, but the words felt empty. He felt empty.

He stopped exercising. He gained weight. He stopped answering when former teammates called. He felt ashamed. He hadn’t lived up to his potential. He hadn’t lived up to his nickname. The calls stopped coming. In silence, Harold prayed for healing.

He felt better when Pam was around. She had never cared if he could dunk a ball or shoot a 3. His fame neither fazed her nor enticed her. He felt certain that when she looked at him, she didn’t see a failed prodigy. It was a certainty he felt with nearly nobody else.

Living in Los Angeles made him restless. It reminded him too much of his past. He and Pam got married in 1999, and they bought a house in Las Vegas, near a condo Harold had bought years earlier. He and Pam settled into the house. His mom moved into the condo. He worked hard at being a good husband and son and tried to shun his basketball memories. But Pam would watch him spend hours at home doing nothing. He needs to get out and do new things. Sometimes, she noticed a faraway look on his face, and she knew he was grieving his life as a basketball player. Basketball gave him community. Basketball gave him purpose. Basketball was gone.

“That was his whole life,” Pam says. “From childhood, that’s all he did.”

In 2003, Pam gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Kami. Months later, Harold got a call from his mother’s doctor, who told him that his mom had advanced liver cancer, that she had just weeks to live. Harold spent 18 days in his mother’s presence. Then she was gone. He was 33 years old.

“I’m still processing my career, and then my mother passes and I’ve got to process that too,” Harold says. “It was so painful.”

KAMI MINER LINES UP her feet in front of an agility ladder on the floor of her family’s garage in Las Vegas. She’s wearing a white tank top and black shorts.

“What kind of quick-foot drill would you like me to do?” she asks.

“You know the drill. You know what we do,” Harold responds, pointing a camera at her. She begins, stepping in and out of the square boxes in quick bursts. She reaches the end of the ladder and stops, looking up at her dad.

“This is for quick, explosive movements with your feet,” Harold says.

“Exactly,” she responds. “I’m training for volleyball.”

The Protégé

BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE, Kami Miner loved playing the piano. It soothed her. It challenged her. And Kami loved a challenge.

One of her earliest memories: participating in a piano recital and beaming at the end as the audience cheered loudly.

Maybe, in another world, Kami would have chosen to become a pianist. But Kami Miner had Harold Miner as her father. He knew squat about the music industry, but he knew exactly what Kami needed to do — and not do — to become a star athlete.

“Having that kind of visual aid to be an inspiration, it’s invaluable knowledge from someone who’s been to the top of sports,” Kami says.

When she was 8, some of her soccer friends persuaded her to try volleyball. She loved that she could see every point play out much like a grandmaster would a chess game. She loved hugging her teammates after every point. Tennis was too lonely, soccer too slow. Volleyball was the perfect concoction of speed and team spirit.

“I felt like I was doing the right thing and I was in the right place,” she says. “I knew I wanted to be able to play it for as long as possible.”

USC retired Harold’s jersey in 2012 and asked him to give a speech at halftime of the UCLA game. His hands felt sweaty as Kami and her little brother, Brayden, walked next to him on court, her fluffy pink dress bobbing along with each stride.

She stood by her father as he thanked Raveling and the USC community for believing in his abilities. Kami’s eyes darted between her dad and the adoring fans. It was the first time Kami consciously thought of her father as something other than her father — a basketball prodigy, a revered athlete.

“It’s really cool because my brother and I, sometimes we [used to be] like, ‘What does this guy know? He played 20-something years ago. He’s an old dude now,'” Kami says. “It was very powerful in getting to hear him firsthand talk about his experiences while he was playing.”

When Kami was 10, Pam told her she needed to choose between piano and volleyball. Simple. Piano was something she imagined doing in her free time. But she couldn’t imagine a world without volleyball.

“I’m going to be a volleyball player,” she said.

She had power in her right arm. She could soar like her father. Thanks to those 30-inch box jumps, she could spike hard over the net.

But Kami’s club coach, April Chapple, noticed something else about 11-year-old Kami that nobody else had.

She had massive hands.

Chapple approached Harold with an idea: Kami should become a setter. Mark my words, she is going to be an elite setter, Chapple said to Harold.

Harold, who had spent the past three years poring over books like “Inside College Volleyball,” “Misty: My Journey Through Volleyball and Life,” “The Sand Man: An Autobiography,” and watching college and international volleyball games to prepare his daughter, loved the idea.

Volleyball had several highly successful Black players — Hall of Famers Flo Hyman, Tara Cross-Battle and Danielle Scott-Arruda — but with few exceptions, they were attackers.

“I liked that idea of her doing something that people don’t expect African Americans to do in terms of position,” Harold says. “It became exciting to be one of the forerunners at that position.”

Kami loved a new challenge. She was all-in.

HAROLD HIT THE STORE and came home with a hooplike contraption for setting practice. Almost every evening, Harold and Pam drove Kami and Brayden to a public gym in Las Vegas and lugged the equipment from their car so Kami could get in two extra hours of practice. Harold paid for the gym, set up the equipment and threw balls at Kami. Sometimes Pam took over to give him a break. Kami, who already was playing above her age group, elevated and pushed the ball into the net.

“If you’re going to play it, if you’ve chosen to play it, you want to be the best that you can be, and so I took it upon myself to help her get there,” Harold says. “And I knew what it was going to take, it was going to take a lot of hard work.”

A part of Harold began to come alive. Even relatives noticed.

“[Harold] lights up when he’s training Kami,” says Denise Malveaux, Pam’s first cousin. “It’s like watching him fall in love with a [new] sport all over again.”

Kami welcomed the grind. She also remembers laughing a lot. Harold was the “biggest jokester,” Kami says. He would say something ridiculous and burst into giggles. A song would play on the speakerphone, and Kami would start swaying her hips — and Harold would follow suit. Soon, they’d all be dancing and laughing.

There were times when Kami pushed back. “I want to hang out with my friends,” she snapped at Harold. “I’m tired,” she complained. “There’s no free time, and I’m doing it almost every single day,” she fumed. But, at the end of every practice, she made the “active decision” to go back. She wanted to get better, and she wanted her father to help her.

To Harold, that meant emphasizing recovery as well as training. After intense workouts, Harold drew an ice bath in their tub, and Kami would get in. “His body didn’t cooperate,” Pam says. “So he is always making sure her body is right.”

Pam focused on nutrition, making sure Kami got enough complex carbs and protein.

Harold showed up to every one of Kami’s club matches and stood on the sideline, sweating. Sometimes Chapple sent him to the second floor. She didn’t want Kami reacting to Harold’s energy or looking at him for validation. He paced, peering down to get glimpses of the action.

To coaches, Kami seemed wise beyond her age. Players four years older than her called her a “role model,” Chapple said.

As Kami’s college recruitment process began, Harold began opening up to her and Brayden. During dinnertime, he coyly talked about his USC recruitment process, his experience playing in front of sold-out crowds, and what it felt like to hear his name called at the NBA draft. Some days, he kept it light. Other days, he waded into stories he hadn’t allowed himself to think about in years.

He told them about his knee injuries and how he had failed to take care of his body. He told Kami how important it was that she put her body first.

Harold sometimes found Kami icing her knees or adding an extra scoop of protein to her meal and knew his stories had resonated.

“I poured all that stuff into [Kami] for years and years, and it helped bring me out of dealing with the disappointments I dealt with from my basketball career,” Harold says. “It was therapeutic for me to be able to use all that stuff and just pour that stuff into my daughter.”

IN 2017, THE MINERS moved 290 miles from Las Vegas to Redondo Beach in California so Kami could play for Redondo Union High. Coach Tommy Chaffins remembered watching her tape with his mouth open. At 13, she was making plays only very few seniors in high school could.

It had been nearly 20 years since Harold left California to flee his basketball memories. Now he returned — some 20 miles from where he grew up — hoping to make volleyball memories with his daughter.

Kami quickly settled in. She made eye contact when Chaffins coached, nodded her head, and immediately executed a set he expected of her. Sometimes after practice, Harold would ask Chaffins’ permission and hit balls really hard at Kami. “Kami is not afraid of a hard hit,” Chaffins says.

When Kami was a sophomore, she and Harold began having regular mental health check-ins. “Are you feeling unnecessary pressure from me? If so, what can I do to change that?” Harold asked. Some days, Kami told him to back off, that she didn’t have time for an extra practice. Other days, she said, “Dad, just chill out and be a parent in the stands.”

Says Pam: “Kami can say, ‘You need to back off,’ and Harold accepts it.”

Sometimes Harold didn’t even need Kami to voice her feelings. He could see it in her face. “I could read her and how she’s feeling, and I would let her know that, ‘OK, so we gotta shut it down today,'” Harold says.

USC was among the first major colleges to show interest in Kami, but the idea of playing at a school where her father’s shadow would follow her to every nook did not appeal to her. If anything, Harold felt more strongly than Kami. Their visit cemented that. People walked up to the Miners and shook Harold’s hand, telling him how much they loved his game.

In spring 2018, Stanford reached out. Kami had not given Stanford any serious thought. It was an academically rigorous school, and she didn’t know if she would fit in. But she fell in love with the volleyball team and the campus. The feeling was mutual.

“I was blown away at the whole family, to be honest,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly says. “Her dad’s perspective and how she’s developed … I’m like, man, this is certainly a good fit.”

When the Miners rode to the airport after their visit, Kami burst into tears. “This is where I want to go to school,” she told Harold and Pam.

For the next two years, to meet Stanford’s academic requirements, Kami took on eight AP courses at Redondo Union, in addition to playing on her high school and club teams. Sometimes Brayden, with whom she shared a room, woke up late at night and found the desk lamp on, Kami’s head bent over a notebook. Brayden could hear her scribbling away in the otherwise quiet night. Still, getting seven hours of sleep was nonnegotiable. Your body needs to recover, Harold told her.

Whenever she found gaps in her schedule, Kami cooked. Pam’s mom instilled a love of cooking in Kami when she was a kid. Every time Kami would go to Louisiana to visit Pam’s mother — and Whitey, the horse she inherited from her grandfather — she came back with a notebook full of recipes and dragged her parents to the grocery store to buy ingredients. Her specialties: monkey bread and pot pie.

When Kami was in high school, Pam had to travel to Louisiana for a stretch to take care of her ailing mother. After practices, Kami cooked for her dad and brother. She looked forward to the hours she spent in the kitchen. It was her time to unwind, and to put together a delicious meal.

“It’s for sure wanting to have an identity outside of volleyball and have things that I do that I’m passionate about, that have nothing to do with athletics at all,” Kami says.

Usually, thanks to Harold’s warnings, she packed her meals with protein and whole grains. It didn’t matter if you got into the best school if your body wasn’t ready for it.

In August 2020, she committed to Stanford. She led Redondo Union to a 108-14 record in the three seasons — the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out her senior season. Her favorite memory? Winning the California Interscholastic Federation Division 1 championship against Mater Dei in her junior year.

After the last point, Kami joined her team in a dogpile. “It’s something I’ll watch back,” Kami says. “My parents still have it recorded on the television.”

Looking back, Kami had a realization: Harold had an urgency to teach her everything he knew — the good, but particularly the bad — when she first began playing volleyball. By the time she finished high school, her father had changed.

“He backed off and was along for the ride with me,” Kami says. “That shows the growth, the healing he did go through in being a part of my journey.”

KAMI MINER STANDS INCHES from a red brick wall in her brother’s bedroom. She’s wearing a gray T-shirt and camo pants, her hair in a ponytail. Her arms are lifted above her head, and she’s slapping a volleyball against the wall. Quick rhythmic wall sets.

“Keep it up,” Harold says. She lets her left hand go for a second, continuing to set with her right. After a second of break, she resumes setting with both hands.

“Two hundred,” Harold calls. Kami keeps setting. She groans.

“Keep it up,” Harold says again, this time his voice louder. “It’s dropping.” Kami picks up the pace. She’s breathing harder.

“Three hundred,” he calls.

The Pioneer

KAMI’S EYES FILL with tears as the national anthem plays over the speaker at Villanova’s Jake Nevin Field House. Standing next to her Stanford teammates, wearing her Cardinal jersey for her first match, a wave of emotions overtakes her.

Harold is not in the stands, but memories of her father play in her mind like scenes from a movie. The hours they spent in the gym, the ice baths he drew for her, the dinnertime conversations when he opened up about his past.

“It was the culmination of so much time … my dad has put in,” Kami says.

Before leaving for Stanford, Kami approached Harold in their Redondo Beach living room and asked him if they could talk. Ever since she told him she wanted to play volleyball, he had been her guide. A big change was coming. She needed him to know she was going to be OK. She needed to know whether he was going to be OK.

“I have this great community around me, these great coaches, staff,” she said. “I want you to enjoy just watching me play and watching all that work that we both put in over all these years pay off.”

Kami remembers Harold nodding, but then struggling with the change. As months passed, Kami saw him beginning to embrace his new role as her cheerleader. Even as she and the Cardinal were struggling.

Despite having players like sophomore star Kendall Kipp, Stanford lost to Minnesota in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament and ended the season with a 19-11 record. Kami was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

The turning point came in Kami’s sophomore season.

Five thousand fans — most of them wearing Gophers’ maroon and yellow — sit in the bleachers as Kami walks onto Maturi Pavilion in Minnesota in her red Stanford jersey. Stanford has lost back-to-back games, and the season seems to be teetering.

Kami’s hair is pulled in a tight bun and her eyes are locked in, but her face reveals nothing. She doesn’t say a word to anyone. Hambly feels her energy, and so do her teammates. This is the day Kami Miner becomes Kami Miner.

“She absolutely took charge of the game, blocking, defense, was flying all over the place,” Hambly says. “That was the first time I really saw her [say] ‘This is how I compete, I’m going to take over, it’s mine, I’m taking this match, I’m going to show you that I’m the best.'”

Kami had 43 assists and 10 digs, and Stanford beat No. 3 Minnesota 3-1. That match put her on a path to become a first-team All-American and Pac-12 Setter of the Year. “We have a real setter now,” Hambly remembers thinking.

Kami felt as if her father had prepared her all her life for that very moment. His advice echoed in her ears.

When in the biggest, most critical moments of any match, attack the situation all-out. Never hide from the moment! Embrace that moment!

GRINNING FROM EAR TO EAR, Kami jogs out of the locker room at Maples Pavilion in her white-and-red Stanford jersey and black shorts. Her hair, up in a bun, glistens with sweat. It’s September 2023, and Stanford has swept Arizona State. Kami finished with 44 assists and seven digs.

One end of the arena has been cordoned off, and young girls holding posters of Miner and other Stanford players wait. A group of young Asian American girls huddles nearby. “Is that the setter? Is that Kami?” they whisper as a smiling Kami approaches. “Oh my god, she’s here!” another one responds. Kami stops to take pictures.

A young Black girl in a blue hoodie smiles sheepishly at Kami.

“I loved your sets today,” she says, handing Kami a Stanford volleyball poster. “I’m a setter too.”

“Thank you,” Kami says, smiling widely. “And you are? That’s amazing!” She grabs her Sharpie and signs the poster.

“Keep practicing your setting. Love – Kami Miner,” she writes.

Over the past year, Kami has heard the word “pioneer” attached to her name. She has sat with it, considered it and journaled her thoughts. Of course, she has discussed it with her parents.

“Being called a pioneer, and have little girls that were my age trying to look up, find someone that can visually represent them and that they resonate with, I think that’s just so incredible and really, really powerful,” Kami says. “It’s important to talk about the fact that being a Black setter is not the norm and it has not been the norm.”

The weight of the epithet is not lost on Kami.

“It’s a lot different being a role model of a group versus my dad being linked to another person and trying to replicate it with their game in everyone else’s eyes,” she says.

Harold no longer feels the need to be present for every practice session or match. But he still checks in — constantly — sending Kami text messages in all caps. “BE AUTHENTIC.” “GET YOUR BODY RIGHT.” “ARE YOU STILL ENJOYING VOLLEYBALL?”

The messages make Kami laugh. “Like, Dad, why are you yelling at me?”

Deep down she knows. Sports left Harold with little more than regret and painful lessons. He wants to make sure Kami is ready. It’s her turn now.

“He spent so much time and effort into my career,” Kami says as a tear falls down her cheek. “And I didn’t even realize that it was therapeutic for him.”

Pam thinks it was his therapy, sure, but it was more than that.

“Being taken out of the game was the biggest blessing that could have happened to him,” she says. “Kami and Brayden wouldn’t be here.”

Harold — who is, to this day, USC’s leading career scorer — says his daughter has become better at volleyball than he ever was at basketball.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Harold says.

Says Kami: “It honestly shows the power of sports and the power [it] has to heal us and how massive of a role that that can play.”

One morning before the season even started, Hambly woke up to a text from Harold. “How is she developing?”

“I’m like, Harold, come on, man,” Hambly says. “She’s literally the best setter in the country right now. I don’t think there’s any argument about that.”

Kami has led Stanford (26-3) to the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The Cardinal open against Fresno State (19-13) on Friday at home hoping to win the program’s 10th national title. Harold will be there.

Kami and the Cardinal got a wakeup call early in the season, losing to Florida and Nebraska at home. They went 20-1 the rest of the way, including a gritty five-set win over Louisville five days after the loss to Nebraska, the top seed in the tournament.

Does Kami think she can lead the team all the way to the trophy?

“We’re absolutely prepared and ready for it,” Kami says. “This group deserves it.”

The Promise


Pam Miner, sitting next to an empty seat, cranes her neck. She can’t, for the love of God, figure out where the man went.

She opens her purse and fumbles for her phone.

“Get your ass here right now,” she texts him.

It’s the regional final of the 2022 NCAA tournament, and Stanford has just lost to San Diego in a brutal five-setter at home. Kami finished with 52 assists and nine digs. It wasn’t enough.

Minutes earlier, Pam watched an emotional Kami disappear into the Cardinal locker room. She knew Kami would run over any minute now and ask: “Where’s Daddy?” Just as she did after every loss growing up.

Pam needs Harold to be present when Kami comes looking for him after the biggest loss of her career.

Just then, Pam spots Harold in the crowd. Sweat pouring out of his forehead, he comes running. He had been pacing the top section for the past two hours. He began making his way to the bleachers as soon as the game ended, but the crowd slowed his progress. The only thought running in his head: My girl, she needs me.

Moments later, her eyes puffy, Kami exits the locker room. She has been crying, holding her teammates. I need to find my dad.

Kami spots Harold. She runs into his open arms, tears streaming from her eyes. Harold kisses her forehead.

“I know it hurts so badly right now, but I am proud of you because you played your heart out against a great opponent,” he whispers in her ear.

And then, Harold holds her face, looks into her eyes.

“You’re a champion. You will get another chance.”

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