The NBA went through a crisis after the 1992-93 NBA season. Their most marketable player, Michael Jordan, retired, and the league needed to fill that void.
There were a few players who looked like potential candidates, like Penny Hardaway. But there was one player who stood above the rest as the player to have the best chance to fill Jordan's massive shoes, and that was Grant Hill.
The story of many NBA players begins with a tough upbringing where the player had to struggle just to survive. The story of Grant Hill's upbringing involves some struggles, but not how you think.
Hill was born on October 5, 1972, in Dallas, Texas. His father, Calvin Hill, was a running back in the NFL. So, Hill didn't have to struggle with poverty, but he did have a problem with fitting in.
In 1976, Hill's father signed as a free agent to the Washington Redskins and the family moved to a nice suburb in Washington, D.C.
While in D.C., Hill saw many famous people, including entertainers, athletes, and politicians, stop by his house regularly.
This was hard for Hill to deal with, as he had friends who didn't have much, while he was living the privileged life.
“I've always just wanted to blend in and be like everybody else,” Hill said in an interview with Sporting News. “I didn't want anybody, especially my friends, thinking I was better than them. I just wanted to be a down-to-earth guy and have my own identity.”
On top of feeling like he was stuck in a position of privilege compared to his friends, Hill also had to deal with struck rules by his parents.
Hill wasn't allowed to be on the phone during the week and over the weekend, he was only allowed one phone call a day.
Hill's time spent as a child was mostly on sports, including basketball where he'd become a star at South Lakes High School, gaining interest from colleges like the University of North Carolina and Georgetown University.
Grant Hill: College Star
Grant Hill passed on going to the University of North Carolina and Georgetown University to attend Duke University. Here at Duke, Hill would become a star.
Hill played on what became the greatest college basketball team since the UCLA teams of the mid-1970s led by legendary coach, John Wooden.
In Hill's four years at Duke, he averaged 14.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
More importantly, Hill led Duke to two championships in back-to-back years (1991 and 1992) and a 118-23 record over his four years.
Hill was a part of a team with great college players, from Christian Laettner to Bobby Hurley.
Hill was also involved in the final play of what's been deemed “the greatest college basketball game of all time”.
In the 1992 East Regional Final game, Hill threw a perfect inbounds pass to Laettner, who hit the turnaround buzzer-beating game-winner over Kentucky.
Even though Duke didn't win the national championship in the 1993-94 season, Hill, who was a senior, showed how great of a player he was.
As a senior, Laettner and the other leaders of the back-to-back championship, Duke teams were gone and Hill showed great leadership on the court.
These leadership skills helped to build his draft stock and in the 1994-95 NBA Draft, Hill would be selected third by the Detroit Pistons.
NBA Rookie Of The Year And The “Next Jordan”
The Detroit Pistons were far removed from their former championship self by the time the 1994-95 season began. Isiah Thomas was gone by this time and the franchise needed a spark.
So, the Pistons selected Hill and his impact would be felt right away. Hill would lead the team in scoring (19.9) and steals (1.8) as a rookie.
Hill's impressive play would earn him the Co-Rookie Of The Year Award, which he would share with Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks.
With Michael Jordan out of the league (until the final 17 games) Hill stepped right into the role as the league's most popular player, as he received the most votes for the 1995 NBA All-Star Game.
By his second season, Hill was starting to get the title of being “The Next Jordan”, even though the real Michael Jordan was back in the league.
Hill's game resembled more of Magic Johnson, but the potential the media and fans alike saw him as, elevated Hill to the Jordan standard.
“So much has been made in my rookie season about the comparison between us, but we have different games, and we are different people,” Hill said in an interview he gave as a rookie. “If I'm ruthless enough, it remains to be seen.”
Many people believed Hill could overtake Jordan as the best in the league. This was especially true with the performance Hill gave against Jordan on April 13, 1997.
Hill truly out-dueled Jordan in this game, scoring 27, while collecting 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Jordan was held to 18 points in the game, and the Pistons beat the Bulls by a score of 108-91.
Hill gave a similar performance against another player who'd go on to be dubbed “The Next Jordan”, Kobe Bryant. The game occurred on January 18, 1997, in Los Angeles.
The Pistons won the game in overtime by a score of 100-97. Hill scored 34 while collecting 15 rebounds and 14 assists.
The young star in the making, Kobe Bryant, scored 21 off the bench, giving fans a showcase of two players who could be battling for “best in the league” in the future.
The future it would have to be, as Michael Jordan quickly proved he was still the best in the game. Hill's future would be in jeopardy starting on April 15, 2000.
The Injury Bug Destroys Hill's Career
The Detroit Pistons played against the Philadelphia on April 15, 2000, and he severely sprained his left ankle.
The playoffs started only seven days after Hill's injury, but he came back to try to play. This lasted two games before Hill left and didn't return.
Hill's attempt to play in the playoffs made his injury worse, but the worst is yet to come.
After six seasons in Detroit, Hill joined the Orlando Magic in a sign and trade deal. This change would be a horrible one.
Hill's ankle continued to be a problem for him as it limited him to four games in the 2000-01 season, 14 games in the 2001-02 season, and 29 games in the 2002-03 season.
If this seems like a terrible string of bad luck, you would be right, but it would get worse.
Hill would miss the entire 2003-04 season with his ongoing ankle injury and the scary situation where he contacted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.
“I was back home recovering [ankle surgery], and my body just went in shock,” Hill said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Come to find out, the incision on my ankle opened. Either the incision opened and it caused the staph infection, or the staph infection caused the incision to open. It was as close as I’ve ever been to checking out.”
This became the tipping point in Hill's career, and it would only get slightly better in the future.
Over the next nine seasons, Hill played the entire 82 games in a season once, and when Hill played, it was clear he wasn't the same player.
The ongoing ankle injury Hill suffered changed his game and his venue, as he left Orlando to play for five years in Phoenix before finishing his career in Los Angeles for the Clippers.
Grant Hill finished his 18-year career with averages of 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.
Yes, Hill ended up playing 18 years in the league, which is a lot more than most players, yet, his career could've been so much better.
Grant Hill should be in the discussion of “The Greatest Players Of All Time”, yet, he's not thanks to the injuries that derailed his career.
Grant Hill's Post Playing Career
Grant Hill retired from the NBA on June 1, 2013, and two years later he became a co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks.
Even though Hill's career was drastically changed by his injuries, his play was still good enough (and his college career) to earn him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame on September 7, 2018.
Hill has also had a successful broadcasting career since retiring, from his appearance on NBA Inside Stuff and his broadcast work on the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Grant Hill has gone down in NBA history as one of the biggest “What Ifs” the game has ever seen.
Sadly, we will never be able to see Hill live up to the potential he had, but we're still grateful to have seen the spark of greatness he gave us in the mid-90s.