Upon announcing his retirement from basketball yesterday, Grant Hill possesses no shortage of memories when he wants to reminisce about his basketball life.
Starting with the pass to Laettner to the Fila/Sprite and Dream Team III days when he was a triple-double threat every time he laced them up, Hill’s early career placed him among the best to play the game.
Yet if Hill had never gotten hurt and continued on that trajectory he never would have become a Phoenix Sun and perhaps never would have been able to learn as much about himself as he did through the injury-filled years of misery and finally the redemption in the final act of his career with the Suns.
After logging at least 30 games only twice in seven years in Orlando due to his treacherous ankle injury among other issues — maladies that allowed him to play just 47 games in his first four years with the Magic — Hill turned into an iron man with the Suns, missing just three games in the three seasons between 2008-11 despite being well into his 30s. To make this a reality he put in more time to get his body right than any player Suns trainer Aaron Nelson has ever worked with, Nelson said a few years ago.
In his time with the Suns, he also reinvented himself from an elite scoring threat into a defensive ace who routinely guarded the Suns’ toughest opponent, from point guards to power forwards and every wing in between, and served as a role model in the locker room.
His leadership and professionalism set a tone for the post-D’Antoni Suns that culminated in Phoenix’s special 2010 run to the conference finals that Hill described as a career highlight in an interview with ESPN.com:
“Playing in Phoenix and the 2010 season, that was by far — even more so than the Duke teams — I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a team that close. Our locker room, was together. I’m sure there are other teams that have that. But with egos and the money and the whole NBA, it’s hard to create that environment.
“I don’t know if it was by design or if it just happened. We might not have been the most talented group or whatever. But in terms of working together, supporting each other and enjoying one another on and off the court by hanging out, going to dinner, families involved. We were all together.
“One of the memories I have is we were playing San Antonio. They were always our nemesis. We couldn’t get past them in the playoffs. And here we are, Game 3 and Goran Dragic goes off in the fourth quarter and the main guy cheering for him is Steve [Nash]. And here’s a guy, it’s his position, and I remember Alvin [Gentry, the Suns coach] asking Steve, ‘Do you want to go in?’ And ‘No. Let him go.’ Here was our quarterback basically saying, ‘Let the backup go. He’s on fire.’ That was a special group.”
Amazingly enough, the 2010 Suns were the only team Hill played for to win a playoff series. It’s a team that will be remembered for camaraderie and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts; Hill’s leadership and positive energy were a big reason why.
Overall, Hill averaged 12.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in five years as a Sun, and in 2010-11 he joined an illustrious list of stars including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Reggie Miller as the only players to average at least 13 points past the age of 37.
“On behalf of the entire Phoenix Suns organization, we would like to congratulate Grant Hill on a Hall of Fame career,” Suns owner Robert Sarver said in a release. “We all know that he was a tremendous pro, but his greatest contributions are in the example he’s set for others with his work ethic and professionalism, both on and off the court.
“He is truly a class act, and I’ve valued his friendship and respected his advice since we met. Grant is, and always will be, a member of the Suns family.”
It has long been rumored that Hill would eventually find a spot in the Suns’ front office waiting for him upon retirement, and Paul Coro wrote that Hill and his former agent Lon Babby “have begun to thaw a relationship that turned icy since last summer.”
As a respected figure around the league who speaks well and defines the word “leadership,” Hill will have no shortage of options upon retirement. A rebuilding team like the Suns would be lucky to receive Hill’s guidance at any level of the organization when he begins the next stage of his basketball career.
A few years back I analyzed Hill’s Hall-of-Fame chances:
Overall Hill’s resume includes the following honors: co-Rookie of the Year, seven-time All-Star, one All-NBA First Team, four All-NBA Second Teams, one Olympic gold medal and two college NCAA championships.
BasketballReference.com’s Hall of Fame Monitor gives Hill a score of 119, whereas a 135 denotes a likely Hall of Famer. Injuries prevented Hill’s prime from making him a definite Hall of Famer, but at this point he may be close enough for honors such as this Board of Governors seat to push him over the top.
Neil Paine evaluated Hill’s candidacy for ESPN Insider upon his retirement and came to the following conclusion:
It’s close, but I think Hill will get in. As we’ve seen with the case of Ralph Sampson, college accomplishments can weigh heavily on the minds of voters, and Hill had quite a few of those. He also had a very high peak, topping out as nearly the best player in basketball during the late 1990s, and he’ll get bonus points for the perseverance he showed in overcoming five ankle surgeries to make a successful comeback. Hill’s overall NBA résumé is probably just shy of Hall of Fame standards, but his NCAA career ought to be enough to push him over the top.
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