by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
Grant Hill was quite the star in the ’90s. By ’94, he’d already secured two NCAA titles. Later that same year, after going third overall to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Draft, Hill scorched the hardwood from the moment of his debut. That moment marked the start of six remarkable seasons to close out the century for Hill, during which he averaged 21.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 6.4 apg while shooting 48 percent from the field. The Aughts were, sadly, not as successful. After signing a massive free-agent deal with Orlando in the summer ’00, he suffered a gruesome ankle break that changed the course of his career. He eventually returned to the lineup in Orlando and went on to become a major contributor as a member of the Suns for five seasons before joining the Clippers this past year. Recently, after 18 seasons in the L, Hill decided to retire at the age of 40. He spoke with SLAM a few days after the announcement.
SLAM: It’s been a few days since you retired. Has it sunk in?
Grant Hill: Yes, I feel great. I look forward to the next phase and chapter of my life.
SLAM: When you came into the League in ’94, the NBA was experiencing incredible growth. A few Collective Bargaining Agreements have expired since then and you’re leaving at a time when the game continues to flourish globally. Were there any changes within the game in that period that stand out to you?
GH: A couple things stand out: I kind of caught the tail end of a generation. The players who played in the ’80s and into the early ’90s, I caught the tail end of that. I also played with my generation—I was hurt for most of my generation—but I got to play with contemporaries of mine and then with the next generation of players, today’s stars. You look over the course of 20 years and I think the mindset of players is different. A lot of these guys have come of age during the technology era—SportsCenter, cable, there is more coverage of sports and the NBA in particular. Good, bad or indifferent, I think that has affected today’s modern athlete in the NBA. I also think the game has changed. Think back on the ’90s and how the game was played. Now I think the League is heavily influenced by what Mike D’Antoni did in Phoenix and what Rick Adelman did in Sacramento. A lot of teams have adopted that style of play. It’s free-flowing, it’s perimeter-oriented, less emphasis on going inside to the bigs. It’s interesting to see that. The League will continue to have great players come through and make an imprint through their careers. There is probably some 9-year-old practicing right now that will be the next great player that everyone admires and looks up to and so on. And that’s the beauty of the game: Nobody is bigger than it. The game continues, no matter what.
SLAM: Are you proud of the fact that you were able to play so many years after such a serious injury?
GH: Yes. It was a tough time for me, fighting the injury with my ankle, going through that whole ordeal. I was told by multiple doctors and experts that I would be unable to get through a full season with my ankle. But looking back, the ankle hasn’t been a problem at all. Now, I’ve had other problems and some of those may be related to the ankle, but I’m very proud of these last 10 years and what I’ve had to do to continue my career, having to re-invent myself to a degree. It took a lot of resolve to get to this point where I’m able to retire at 40.
SLAM: The timing is perfect, since Mitchell & Ness is re-releasing your old Pistons jersey this year.
GH: I’m excited. I guess my Detroit jersey does qualify as a throwback now.
SLAM: Do you have any of your old Pistons jerseys tucked away?
GH: I have an air-conditioned storage unit back in Florida with jerseys, practice gear, my old Fila shoes from Detroit. I’ve got practice jerseys from every year, even Orlando and Phoenix. Magazines, All-Star rings—a lot of memorabilia and keepsakes. I mean, I still have the crutches that I had for my ankle when I was in Orlando, I have the boot that I wore when it was healing—I’m a borderline pack rat! So it’s not all just good stuff, there’s bad stuff, too. There is a story behind each thing there and it’s all a part of the journey. I have not gone through it, but there is a lot in there. It will be cool to go through it and figure out what I’m going to do with all that stuff.