So Grant Hill finally came out and said it: the Pistons basically screwed him over. Everyone knows the story by now: the once-great Hill, sure to be one of the best players ever to play the game with numbers after six years that have only been rivaled by LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird, leaves Detroit with an injured ankle, it’s never taken care of, his career is completely diminished, or destroyed, and it takes the trainers in Phoenix to bring the former Dukie back to life in his late 30s.
In an interview with Jason Whitlock of FOXSportsradio.com, Hill says he was afraid of bailing on his teammates during a season that was completely overshadowed by his impending free agency. He didn’t want the public to think of him as a quitter or a loser. He wanted to live up to Isiah Thomas‘ Detroit legacy: a guy who was tough and gritty. Yet, he thinks there was too much confusion with his injury. Hill remembers some doctors even saying he was just being a baby and that nothing was wrong. Ironically, when he did eventually find out his ankle was broken, he was happy. There was something wrong with him. But finally, he felt Detroit, and later Orlando, completely mismanaged his injury and ultimately, his career.
“I don’t think anybody really knows I started to have ankle problems at the end of the 1999-2000 season, probably mid-March,” Hill said. “I was still able to go out and play. I still played well, but I was getting a lot of treatment. It was certainly bothering me. As we got closer to the end of the season, my ankle was really getting worse. I was missing practice. To the point where we had a nationally televised game against Philadelphia and I just pulled myself. My ankle was just killing me. We get back, we get an MRI. They say it’s a bone bruise.”
Hill had surgery on his ankle before signing the $92 million deal with Orlando and played in the first game of the season, but he shouldn’t have been activated until December or January.
“The doctor who performed (my) surgery picks the paper up and saw that I played like 30 minutes and he was irate,” Hill said. “I wasn’t supposed to be on the court doing basketball-related activity until December. So somewhere along the line, the ball was dropped. … I played in another game in Miami the next night and they shut me down to do rehab for five or six weeks. By then it was too late.”
When talk of Hill’s injury arises, we always think “what if?” We speculate. How good would he have become? How much of a legend would he be right now? But what about the entire NBA? Things would be drastically different. For example:
-Orlando would’ve become a championship-contending team and possibly never would’ve landed Dwight Howard. Howard could’ve ended up with Charlotte (the team that ultimately got Emeka Okafor with the number-two pick in that draft), thereby eventually making Michael Jordan look like a genius and single-handedly saving that franchise. Or Howard could’ve landed in Chicago instead of Ben Gordon (the third pick), where he would’ve made them too good to land Derrick Rose and Rose would’ve ended up in some place like Miami (instead of Michael Beasley), teamed with Dwyane Wade to become the greatest athletic backcourt of all-time, but possibly killed any chance of the Miami Thrice.
-So LeBron instead ends up in NYC
-During Hill’s first season in Florida, instead of losing in a tight series to Milwaukee in the first round, they win and make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals against Philly. There are no more suspected rumors of fixing games as Orlando in the Finals is just as viable an option as AI and the Sixers. So Orlando proceeds to beat Philly just as they did three out of four times in the regular season that year. Then, we get Shaq and Kobe vs. Grant and Tracy McGrady in the Finals. Iverson’s popularity never explodes the way it did and the idea that he’s just another good individual who can’t win on his own takes shape.
-We never get to see Iverson step over Ty Lue.
-Then Jason Kidd quite possibly never becomes the talk of the NBA, and doesn’t barely miss out on an MVP because the Nets never get to the Finals the following two years, thereby never setting in motion this “point-guard-as-MVP” obsession everyone has had for the past decade. Steve Nash becomes just another great player, but never wins two MVPs. Instead, Tim Duncan wins it like five years in a row.
-T-Mac and the Magic would’ve never fizzled out and fallen apart in 2004. The Steve Francis trade never happens, and never sets together a course of events that caused him to fall out of the spotlight so decisively.
-Bo Outlaw would still have ugly form.
-T-Mac gets much of the praise Kobe got as T-Mac and Hill become exact replicas of MJ and Scottie Pippen with T-Mac’s back holding out a little while longer. Because instead of playing with Andrew DeClercq and Pat Burke, he has Hill by his side.
-Detroit and Orlando develop a rivalry. Hill becomes, at least in Michigan, the most-hated nice guy ever in the history of sports.
-Doc Rivers doesn’t get run out of town by McGrady like he did after they went on a 19-game losing streak together in 2004. He sticks around as Orlando improves and goes deeper in the playoffs. He ultimately is employed and never leaves to join the Celtics in 2004.
-Ubunto never happens.
-Everyone becomes obsessed with retro Filas.
Just some speculation…
How good would Grant Hill have been if not for the injuries? What else could be different now?
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.