2. GRANT HILL
Before Drake and LeBron were shooting Sprite commercials, Grant Hill had kids dreaming drinking Sprite would make them nice like him.
Now it’s hard to believe that G-Hill is the second oldest player in the league behind Kurt Thomas (by a single day). Still, he is currently the game’s best example of a former superstar-turned-effective role player in the twilight of his career. A whole generation of kids don’t have the slightest clue he was once the first in line for the “next Jordan” title. His game, however, is as smooth as ever. But it’d worthwhile to recall a bit of his prime and why everything he has done since then supports the likelihood he’s an owner in the making.
Fresh off leading Duke to the title game without Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, Hill came into the league ready to fill the hype and void that His Airness left to play baseball. He became the first player in league history to get the most fan votes as a rookie for the All-Star Game with a total of 1,289,585. What’s more impressive is that this feat wasn’t accomplished by any other athlete in the other major pro sports previously until he did it.
Hill went on to share Rookie of the Year honors and top Jordan himself in All-Star votes the following season when he came back from retirement. His popularity was soaring higher than when he dunked it on ’Zo. After making five straight All-Star Games, and four All-NBA teams as Detroit Piston, Hill decided to part ways with the squad that drafted him and entered the biggest free agent summer at the time. That 2000 free agent class was highlighted by him, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady — the Heatles wouldn’t be able to compete against that trio had they all joined forces in Orlando.
“There was a standard in Detroit and that standard was Isiah. He grew up in Chicago. He was tough. He played hurt. He had that great game against the Lakers in The Finals (on a twisted ankle). He was the face of the franchise and I’m sort of the opposite. I’m sure there were Isiah supporters within the organization. Who knows? I can only speculate. But it was like no matter what I did, it wasn’t as good as Isiah…I wasn’t trying to prove how tough I am. I was just trying to win,” said Hill on a Jason Whitlock podcast.
However, the promise of a G-Hill and T-Mac tag-team quickly took a back seat as Hill dealt with too many injuries. In his six seasons with the Magic, Hill played a total of 200 out of 492 games. What could’ve been the best perimeter duo since Jordan and Pippen never took flight. T-Mac was left alone to carry the team and motivated by winning scoring titles. The entire medical situation with respects to Hill’s injuries was mishandled and didn’t help him get back on the court any faster.
“I don’t think it was a conspiracy that, ‘Hey, we gotta get him out here.’ Someone just didn’t read the protocol, which is crazy. You invest $92 million in somebody…I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe how poorly mismanaged this has been,’” reflected Hill about his time as a Magic.
Nevertheless, these extreme highs and lows Hill endured only made him stronger and tested his will to come back. As an owner, the ebbs and flows of a season can challenge their pledge on a rebuilding process. G-Hill has ridden the rise of stardom and fall from grace without pointing fingers or blaming anyone for his misfortunes. He witnessed how organizations dealt with him as a superstar and the expectations they had as a byproduct of it. This experience will bode well for him as a future owner because he’s realized the importance of following the course and fighting adversity when it’s at its bleakest moment. The best owners don’t question the plan in place and don’t blink under the outside pressure of the media and fan base.
Perhaps because his mom was roommates with Hilary Clinton, or perhaps it’s his Duke education and Coach K’s lessons, but Hill has always distilled a rather presidential aura about himself that rubs well on his teammates and fans. This likeable, diplomatic and honest personality would garner the same amount of votes as his past all-star days. If he were to call it quits at season’s end, who knows, maybe Hill could make a run at the office against Obama.
Or maybe the city of Orlando can impeach Rich DeVos as owner and let Hill micromanage the Dwight Howard situation. That way it won’t end up resembling anything like when he was the cornerstone of the Magic. Then Sprite could market him to kids as a true role model rather than a hooper.