Originally published in SLAM 27

Once upon a time—well, twice really, but it’s only the one time that’s important here—we put Grant Hill on the cover. It was the middle of last season, and the man was putting up almost-triple-doubles damn near every night. And the Pistons were rolling. We looked at the numbers, looked at what he was doing to the League and came up with the line for the cover—Just Like Mike. Only Better. It was scary, but man, it was true.

The day we locked it down, Grant fell off. The Pistons took a dive. And MJ started gettin’ busy. Runnin’ off 40-point games like he was 25 again. By the time that issue hit the stands, the line hardly made any sense. And we heard about it. In fact, a year later, we’re still gettin’ letters about that damn cover.

Then it happens. March 16th. The Pistons are playing the Atlantic Division-leading Heat in Miami—where they haven’t won in nine tries. Still, late in the fourth, the Pistons lead, 86-79. With five minutes left, Alonzo Mourning sets a hard screen on Grant. Grabs him, actually. This is when Mourning takes people out of their game. Instead, Hill grabs hold takes Zo out, period. They scramble to their feet, and what’s this? Hill is all up in Zo’s grill, spittin’ game right back at Mr. Intimidator. Grant Hill? Mad? Refs separate, call a foul on Hill. Heat ball.

Right away, Zo throws a bad pass. The Pistons break. Hill gets it at the top of the key, breaks Dan Majerle off at the ankles and heads for the rim. Zo steps up. Hill rises, sticks his left forearm into Zo’s chest and bangs it on him. And one. Then he starts talkin’. Again. Game, Detroit.

“We knew coming in here, if we wanted to win, we had to fight them,” Hill told the Miami Herald afterwards. “They are a team that intimidated us in the past, and we didn’t back down this time.”

Just like Mike. Only better? No way. At least, not yet.

Russ Bengtson