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'Pressure is privilege': Inspired by Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, Von Miller remakes himself

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Meet the new Von Miller.

New hair color. New physique. New mindset.

After a season that admittedly didn't meet "the sack-master's standard," he decided the old Von Miller just wasn't cutting it. So he set out to mold a new one during the offseason.

In the process, he looked to the examples that two of basketball's greatest players, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, had set and reexamined himself in their shadows. What he saw left him dissatisfied with himself, and over the offseason, he devoted himself to not just push his body harder than before but also his temperament as a leader.

"It's never too late to change," Miller said Tuesday, "and I might be 31 years old and it's Year 10, but it's never too late to change."

That desire to change came out of more than just his displeasure with his eight-sackperformance in 2019. Really, it began on Jan. 26 while Miller was preparing to play in the Pro Bowl, when Bryant died tragically in a helicopter accident.

Miller, who was already a fan of Bryant during his playing days, dug deep into Bryant's career and background in the days and weeks after his death. He read Bryant's memoirs, which included introductions from a former teammate and a former coach, all of which left a lasting impact.

"I read his 'Mamba Mentality' book, the foreword by Pau Gasol and the things that Phil Jackson said about him," Miller said. "I want my teammates to say that type of stuff about me, and I want my coaches to say that type of stuff about me."

That led Miller to wonder if he was holding himself to a high enough standard.

"Was I doing the things that Kobe was doing? Was I demanding more of my teammates? Was I demanding more of myself?" Miller recalled asking himself. "And I looked in the mirror, and I said I wasn't."

With the novel coronavirus pandemic shutting down his typical offseason activities, Miller devoted himself completely to reshaping his body.

Miller's progress was slowed when he contracted COVID-19, as it took him three weeks to regain his aerobic strength, and he lost about 15 pounds during his bout with the disease. 

Still, his dedication clearly didn't waver. When Miller showed up to UCHealth Training Center on Saturday, he looked like he might be in the best shape of his career.

"I was kind of wanting to invest in myself, and I was kind of wanting to work," Miller said. "… I just tried to … work as hard as I possibly could. [I didn't] take any days off, didn't go on any vacations. I didn't do anything but work out and grind and reinvest all the time that I would usually spend on endorsements and all this other stuff, and I just reinvested that time back in myself."

Then came "The Last Dance," the ESPN documentary series about Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' dynasty. Miller admired Jordan's willingness to push his body, just as Kobe had done, but more than that, he closely watched Jordan and his former Bulls teammates and coaches reflect on his legendarily demanding leadership style.

Miller decided his more easy-going approach just didn't match the kind of player he wanted to be, nor did it help build the kind of teams he wanted to lead.

"In 'The Last Dance,' Michael Jordan said that he would never demand anything out of his teammates that he wasn't doing himself," Miller said. "So for me, it was like, 'I've got to work harder. I've got to push harder, I've got to get back in shape. I've got to be better.' … I always felt that I was a great leader before, but I kind of shied away from the pressure of being the number one leader or leading in the right direction."

Having reconsidered that notion, Miller said he now embraces the pressure that comes along with his talent, prominence and tenure.

"I feel like especially in this offseason, pressure is privilege," Miller said. "And to have the pressure of being the leader of the Denver Broncos and leading this team to dominance again and to lead this team to a Super Bowl, I want that pressure. Years before, I kind of shied away from that pressure. [I said to myself],'I'm a leader in my own way. I'm a team guy. I'm a people's guy. I want to do what my guys want me to do, and I want to be a fun leader.' But this offseason, I did a little research and found out that I want the pressure. I want pressure, because pressure is privilege. And here at the Denver Broncos, we always have the pressure of being a great team, and I want that. I don't want to shy away from that. And everything I can possibly do to be a great leader, that's what I'm going to do."

Miller probably isn't going to turn into a misanthropic hard-ass, though. He may be changing his leadership style, but he's not losing his personality or his love for his teammates.

"I've identified the leader I was before wasn't getting it done and it wasn't leading us in the right direction to where we needed to be fast enough," Miller said. "It might have been effective, but it wasn't doing it fast enough, and I had to change it. I have to be like those guys. I have to demand more of my teammates. At the same time, I've got love for my teammates, too. I've got to let them know I appreciate them. I tell the guys all the time that I appreciate them. I'm grateful, I'm thankful to be in the locker room with these guys."

What Miller has learned from Bryant's and Jordan's examples has led him to look to other legends to expand his understanding of how to make an impact on his teammates, too. If he can incorporate all those lessons, he can help make his teammates and his team the best they can be.

"I've got to become more of a leader like Kobe and Jordan was," Miller said. "And it's never too late to change. It doesn't matter if it's Year 10 or Year 2. No matter what, I've got to find a way to do it. I've got to meet with the leaders that I'm around. I've got to meet with the [John] Elways and the DeMarcus Wares and the Peyton Mannings, the guys that have done a great job, and I've got to find a way to do it my way and lead these guys to the promised land."

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