First off: no, I don’t only write about Duke players. I like other teams, really. It just so happens that I am a HUGE Derrick Rose fan; Kobe is high on my players to watch list, as are Dame and Steph and Kemba and Dirk. But here is the honest truth: Grant Hill is my absolute hero when it comes to basketball heroes. No one embodied my ideas of hard work, integrity, game IQ, and athleticism like #33 in blue and white. Get ready for a long ride, I have LOTS of thoughts…
I took HEAT for being a Duke fan. Everyone who played, watched, or knew basketball was a UNLV fan in 1990. Bandwagoners wore Bulls gear in Dallas too. Riding with the Devils since ’86, I had no choice but to take it after the 30 point beat down my boys took in ’90. That next fall saw the arrival of Next — next level, next champion, next superstar — Grant Hill. I won’t go into his background, but he wasn’t exactly unknown coming in. What was unknown, however, was how his game would fit in with Laettner and Hurley.
For the first part of the season, he took a backseat. However, come ACC time, the show started. And then we got it, the rematch with Vegas in the Final Four. Now having the missing athletic piece needed to keep up with the Rebels Terminator front line, Duke and Grant put the rebellion down to reach the title game. And that is where it happened:
A superhero was born. That ball was going to the third row, if you couldn’t tell. Title 1, done.
Season 2 was more of the same. They rolled through the regular season, beating the Fab Five along the way and got into the tournament seeded #1. And then this happened:
You might remember hearing something about this. Just a little pass for a game-and-season winner. Duke rolled from that shot to another title, beating the Fab Five again in the title game for Championship #2.
Grant probably could have come out after that season, but pre-Garnett players stayed for the length. After a third title game, a loss to Arkansas, Grant was drafted #3 behind Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd, and ended up sharing the Rookie of the Year with Kidd (who ironically beat Grant and Duke in the 1993 Tournament as a freshman).
Joining a down Detroit team looking for a post-Bad Boys uplift, Grant did all he could to push through, even teaming up with ex-Tarheel Jerry Stackhouse to fight the battles, but all he could muster was a couple of first round exits and a comparison to all-timers (he did lead the league in All-Star votes, even over Mike, for a couple of seasons). Oh, yeah, he also sprained his ankle. No big deal, we’ve all done that if we play right? Well…
Grant played on his. Soon after. And it wasn’t sprained, it was broken. Doctors missed the original diagnosis and by playing on it Grant made it worse. Being a free agent after another first round bye-bye, Grant decided it was time to jet to Orlando.
But that ankle. It wouldn’t let him play, so it was re-broken in surgery, re-worked and rehabbed, and Grant missed most of the next four years, only playing in 18 of a possible 328 games. Never one to shy away from work, Grant got back to it and became a 20 ppg scorer and All-Star in his fifth Orlando season. By then the team was watching a young gun blow up, T-Mac. Time to leave again.
I won’t go into the next few years, it was ugly for some time. Phoenix, and then the Clippers, and then, after 19 seasons, Grant retired as he came in – with class, intelligent, and with complete understanding of his next move.
With all of the missed games and missed potential to be the greatest ever, why did I, a kid in Dallas, feel so strongly about Hill and his game? Simple: he worked. Hard. At the time, Duke was the “white” school (still is to some) at a time when hip-hop was coming into its own and “black culture” was foreign to all but the most street white guys. Grant’s game was NOT Duke — he would dunk on anyone (ask Tim Duncan) at any time. He would block shots, bring the ball up, and dish or drive as easy as anyone ever has. Fluid, smooth, Mike-like.
However, he also had a self-deprecating side; he wasn’t scared to be himself or make fun of his image. He was a guy who was good at basketball, to an other-wordly level, who could also quote Public Enemy lyrics as easily as political commentary. He was what a college athlete should be, and an example of perseverance. He was, and always will be, just like Mike to me.
Another reason I court-worshipped Grant: his shoe choice. For you younger guys, FILA was street-level. Rappers, dealers, thugs, and b-boys were in FILA. It was fashion but athletic and looked sleek and “money” without being over the top. I had five pairs before Grant. Here are a silhouettes few from his signature series, along with the one Nike shoe they will NEVER retro, it’s too good in memories.