Cheryl Miller’s cartwheel in front of Pat Summitt put 1984 Olympic hopes in peril

Pat Summitt
AP
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When Tennessee coach Pat Summitt lost her NCAA Championship Game debut in 1984 to USC, then-Trojans star Cheryl Miller did a cartwheel in celebration. Right in front of Summitt.

Summitt, then still known to Miller as Pat Head, would be the coach of the to-be-named Olympic team that summer.

The cartwheel might have been a mistake.

“My teammates were like, ‘You’re not going to make the Olympic team, you just did a cartwheel in front of Pat Head!'” Miller said in a phone interview Tuesday. “You just committed Olympic suicide right there.”

Miller appealed to her USC coach, Linda Sharp.

“So, I probably shouldn’t have done the cartwheel,” Miller said.

“That probably wasn’t the smartest thing,” Sharp replied.

Miller did end up making the Los Angeles 1984 team coached by Summitt to the first U.S. Olympic women’s basketball title.

But at one point leading up to the Olympics, before the team was named, Miller and the U.S. team had an awful first half in a game. And Summitt let them know about it in the locker room.

“She walked up to me and goes, ‘Cheryl Miller, I will win or lose a gold medal without you,'” Miller recalled. “And I got benched the second half.”

Two days later, Miller and Summitt had a one-on-one meeting in Miller’s room. This is how Miller remembered the conversation:

Summitt: How did you feel about what I said?

Miller: You won’t win a gold medal without me.

Summitt: Yeah, you might be right.

Miller: What do you want from me coach? I give you my everything.

Summitt: I need you to be the player on the planet. You’re already the best player in the country. I need you to be the best player in the world.

“From that day forward, practices took on another level,” Miller said. “I was diving for loose balls, taking charges, doing everything she needed me to do.”

After Miller earned her place on the Olympic team, she remembered another exchange with Summitt.

Summitt: I don’t get you, and I sometimes don’t like you, but I know I can’t win without you.

Miller: Coach, I can’t win without you.

In the Olympic final, Miller paced the U.S. with 16 points, including leading a 14-0 run in the second half after South Korea had cut the lead to 10 points, according to The New York Times.

Miller’s post-game celebration at the Forum was far different than at the NCAA final at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion four months earlier.

Miller helped carry Summitt on the court after the U.S. beat South Korea 85-55. Her father has a photo of it, and Miller called him on Tuesday to retrieve it and then posted it on social media.

“We didn’t know if we should raise her up because we didn’t know if she would get angry,” Miller said. “Once we dropped her on the floor, she looked at me and said well done, Miller, well done.”

MORE: Summitt’s unprecedented U.S. Olympic basketball feat