HOOPS STAR’S DEATH IS TRAGIC AND SENSELESS

They were standing in the parking lot of St. Cecilia’s gym, the college coach and his former player. Darryle Miller smiled when he flipped open his phone to show photos of his baby daughter. But something was bothering him.

“Right before he left,” Rodney Martin recalled, “he turned and said, ‘Coach, you gotta help me get out of this place. They’re just killing people up here.’ “

Three weeks later, Darryle was dead.

They’re just killing people up here. Miller, 20, was leaving a Detroit club early last Sunday morning when someone stopped him. Someone apparently wanted his sunglasses. Someone shot him in the back.

Police are investigating. But you already know the story. A confrontation. A bullet. Another son of the city dies. That’s the story. A Detroit story. A too familiar story.

Sunglasses?

Miller was a basketball star at Northwestern High, a 6-foot-6 swingman who did a lot by doing a little of everything: shoot, defend, rebound. “I watched him play three games in one Saturday during summer league,” Martin recalled. “That night, we offered him a scholarship.”

Miller joined Martin at Tiffin University in northern Ohio, a nice NCAA Division II campus by the Sandusky River. By certain Detroit standards, Miller was a success story. He made it out.

But Martin left Tiffin in 2009, and Miller, a loyal kid, said if his coach left, he was leaving, too. Martin hooked on with Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. He was trying to get Miller a spot there or elsewhere. Coach, you gotta help me get out of this place.

It didn’t happen fast enough. Another mother cries

Much has been made over the sunglasses Miller wore. Supposedly they were high-end Cartier shades, a hot item on the streets, rumored to cost as much as $2,400.

Maybe they cost that much. Maybe they were knockoffs. Whatever. In the aftermath, some people have angrily questioned what a guy like that was doing with sunglasses like those.

Wearing them, that’s what. He didn’t steal them. He paid for them. And while it might be a silly or irresponsible use of money, if you think that earns him a bullet in the back, there is something perverse in your calculations.

The problem isn’t Darryle Miller, the problem is the guy who shot him. The problem isn’t dying for sunglasses, it’s killing for them. Miller was not the first Detroiter murdered for designer sunglasses this year. That’s horrific. But if you blame the victims, you accept that our city is little more than a killing field, and you are not there to live in it, only to survive it.

“I would never have thought in a million years that my son would be gone for sunglasses that he paid for,” said Miller’s mother, Rose Ford, as she choked back her emotions. “Whatever they cost, my son worked, he took care of his daughter, he went to school to reach his goal. … And this person robbed him of his life. It’s not fair.”

Things haven’t been fair here in a long time. Another baby without a father

Murder for accessories is nothing new. Years ago it was for certain Air Jordan shoes. Or Max Julien jackets. Or Cazal glasses. There is always some “gotta have” item, and none of them is worthy of a bullet. But before you scold the victim, ask yourself how fast you bought an iPhone or the newest model car. Most American consumers operate under the same impulses: You see. You want. You buy. Darryle Miller did, too. Sadly, he ran up against another credo in our city: You see. You want. You take.

According to his mother, Darryle was working as an HIV counselor and earning money to support his daughter. Basketball, he hoped, would get him back to college. Said Martin: “He was strong, responsible, a leader, a guy you’d have lunch with and say, ‘Man, I like that guy.’ “

Now they say “liked.” Past tense. A candlelight vigil was held Friday. The funeral was Saturday. His baby girl, Jayla, 18 months, was there. She will never remember his life or his death.

Martin used to predict his player would come back to Detroit, after graduation, and “open a store, find some way to give back.”

Instead, Darryle Miller took the worst our city dishes out, a bullet for no good reason. And while police try to find the shooter, the door closes a little more on Detroit, people stay away a little more, people don’t wear nice shoes or sunglasses. They’re just killing people up here. Who knew a lost son of the city would sum it up so well?

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com

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