BY JARED ZWERLING (NBA ANALYST)
After the 2012-13 regular season ended, former NBA star Grant Hill was in demand on and off the court. Not only did the Los Angeles Clippers want him back, but after he retired on June 1, several television networks reached out to one of the most respected, articulate and intelligent players in the league.
But Hill was really sold on one opportunity: a chance to lead NBA TV’s Inside Stuff in its return after being off the air for eight years. Hill said the show, previously co-hosted by Ahmad Rashad and Summer Sanders, stood out to him because it profiled players behind the scenes, in their daily lives beyond the court.
While the show will feature regular staples like “Rewind” and “Jam Session,” Hill and co-host Kristen Ledlow will also explore adding creative elements during the season.
“I remember them coming out to Detroit doing some stuff for the show, and it was a big thrill,” he told Bleacher Report the day before Inside Stuff debuted on Saturday. “It was a show that I remember watching in college and even watching when I was in the league just to see who they were featuring and what was going on. Now to follow in their footsteps is a big thrill.”
Keeping to the themes of Inside Stuff, Bleacher Report rewound the clock with Hill, going on a journey with him throughout his career to discover personal and revealing stories about the game and experiences he had over 19 years. The conversation started with his days at Duke, playing for Mike Krzyzewski.
Craziest or funniest Coach K story: “Oh, man. If I tell the craziest, funniest stories, I might not be invited back there on campus. The craziest story—it wasn’t necessarily the funniest—but my freshman year playing our first game in the ACC at UVA, we lost; we got blown out. We bus back for three-and-a-half hours, we got off the bus, and he wants everybody taped and ready on the court in 10 minutes.
“We practiced, and it was the worst practice I’ve ever been a part of. I actually broke my nose during the practice. But it was also very eye-opening in that he let me know about establishing a standard of excellence. There was a lot of running, a lot of profanity, a lot of getting in our faces, but I am proud to say that after that, we never had another practice like that with Coach K.”
John W. McDonough / Getty Images 1992
Hardest adjustment to the NBA: “I think the pace of the season, the amount of games. I also think just learning to get your rest. I know that sounds crazy, but you get into a mold and routine of playing late, flying late, getting in at 2, 3 in the morning—just learning how to prepare and get yourself ready. That was the biggest adjustment. The physicality was certainly something as well. Those were probably the two main things early on.”
Michael Jordan comparison early in his career: “I kind of laughed at all of that. Certainly, I wasn’t the first ‘Next.’”
His mentors as a rookie who are still good friends: “I had Joe Dumars. I had Johnny Dawkins. I had Mark West. Those were three guys early in my career that I played with in Detroit, and to this day, we are good friends. I was with Mark for about six years in Phoenix when he was in the front office. Johnny Dawkins is coaching at Stanford—he’s been like a big brother to me through the years. Those are the types of guys that really had a meaningful impact and a great influence on me early in my career, throughout and even to the end.”
Top on-court moments: “I think one of the ones I liked the best was dunking on Alonzo (Mourning, right after they got tangled up and into a shouting match). That was pretty cool back in ’98. I get to relive it every once in a while when I see it on TV. I know I had a game against the Bulls in ’97. I had a triple-double at home, and we beat them. That was pretty cool.
“Even the experience in Phoenix. When we beat the Spurs, we swept them in the playoffs (in 2010). They had been our nemesis for so long, and to beat them, that was pretty cool. Also, the Olympics (in 1996). I’ve had a lot of great experiences throughout my career.”
Top off-court moments: “That’s the best part—the off-the-court stuff, being in the locker room with the guys, on the road, going to eat.
“I know one time, it was pretty cool, I think it was maybe my second year in the league and we played the Bulls, and after the game, I went to eat with Michael (Jordan) at his restaurant. That was fun. It was pretty cool to hang out with him. I’ve met all these guys that I grew up watching and idolizing—Dr. J, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic. The fan in you, to have an opportunity to spend time with those greats was and has been a big thrill of mine, and also getting to know some of the current guys.
“You remember the games a bit and the highlights, but it’s the relationships, it’s the experiences, it’s being a part of this fraternity that we’re all a part of, which, to me, is the most memorable. Now, we get a chance to showcase the same thing (on Inside Stuff) that I’ve seen behind closed doors for 19 years, and certainly that’s what the buzz was about the show when they had it before.”
Andrew Cutraro / Getty Images 1998
Best individual move: “I think my favorite move, I think what I was good at was I had a good first step and I could really get to the basket. I think from that I evolved, particularly in my last few years in Detroit, into a really good mid-range shooter, and then the post was something that I was good at.”
Development of his quick crossover to pull-up jump shot: “Early in my career, I was all about getting to the hole, getting to the free-throw line, and then I started to realize that people were giving me the 10- to 15-foot jumper. I felt like I could get to that; I could get to 10 feet and put people on their heels. I worked hard at it during the lockout in ’98, and really my last year in Detroit when I was healthy. I think (my game) was really coming together then.
“Before I got hurt (in 2000), I was in a really good groove and playing at a high level, and feeling really good about beating people in different ways—beating you in the post, getting to the basket, getting to the free-throw line, in transition. The next step would’ve been probably working in a three-point shot, but I looked at it as there are like five or six ways to dominate. It was fun, and it was certainly fulfilling knowing you put a lot of hard work in to get those results.”
Best basketball trick: “I didn’t have a whole lot of tricks. I used to be able to do—I can’t do it anymore—a soccer rainbow from the free-throw line and have it go off the backboard and go up and dunk it. I used to always say that if I ever got in the Slam Dunk Contest, I would’ve done it. It might take me three tries to get it up there.
“But there are certain tricks you pick up when you’re playing, and how to go about how to hold people, how to use your leverage, do things that the refs might not see. Those things you pick up from playing with guys like Dumars or playing against guys like Jordan, and then I’d incorporate that in my game to be effective.”
Most overlooked aspect of his game: “I think what was overlooked, and I think certainly got some credit in the end, was my defense. I think because I didn’t necessarily have the responsibilities that I had earlier in my career, I was able to devote more of my time to the defense. I thought at an older age, I was able to prove that I could still go out there and play defense at a high level. I think people were shocked, but I was the Defensive Player of the Year in college, and I did play at Duke. It was something that I always felt like I was pretty good at.
“Maybe my toughness as well. Those who know me know that I put my body on the line, took charges, I dove for the ball, I never backed down. I don’t think I was really thought of as a defender. I was older and later in my career when I was probably a half a step slower and playing with one ankle.”
Potential of him and Tracy McGrady together: “Tracy was great. I think when he signed there, I didn’t even know how good he was. It was unfortunate that I was hurt, it was unfortunate that we didn’t get a chance to play together because, I’m not saying we could’ve won it that year, but I think the two of us—me in my prime and him kind of going into his—who knows what we could’ve done? We could play the what-if game all day long. It was unfortunate, but I got a chance to watch his greatness on display, and he truly was a remarkable player, particularly in his years in Orlando.”Eric Drotter / Getty Images 1995
How close he was to signing with the New York Knicks in 2009: “I was. The time that I really wanted to come and maybe would’ve come if it had been different was back in 2000, when I was a free agent out of Detroit. I was always a huge fan of New York and remember meeting with Dave Checketts and (Jeff) Van Gundy. It wasn’t even the injuries that did it; they were talking about trading Pat Ewing for me, and I wanted to play with Pat. I grew up a huge Georgetown fan—that’s why I wore 33.
“One of the reasons that I didn’t come was I just felt like not being the one that was traded for Pat Ewing. I don’t know if it would’ve happened or not, but that was when it was probably the most serious. I had visited the team a number of times and flirted with the idea, but if I was going to do New York, I wanted to be young and in my prime and have a chance to really play at a high level—not when I was an old 37-year-old.”
Impact of the Phoenix Suns’ esteemed training stuff in his later years: “They were great, especially working with (Dr.) Mike Clark. It was really good for me at that point in my career, coming off that situation in Orlando where I just struggled with injuries. Being able to go to Phoenix and be myself and play and get a lot of enjoyment from that, a lot of that was because I was able to stay healthy. They are the best; they treat the body as a whole.
“It’s hard for me to explain, but it was great working with them. I was able to go from a guy who couldn’t stay healthy to a guy who was basically an iron man for a few years. It was pretty cool.”
Thought of being a trendsetter on or off the court: “I don’t know if I was a trendsetter, but I think what was really cool for me and kind of interesting was last year going to L.A. to a team with a lot of great players—and sort of feeling a level of respect that they had for me and the things I had done and the things that I was currently doing, primarily off the court.
“I had an art collection that I toured. I collected African-American art, and I had a collection that toured for two years about seven years ago. We had it at various museums across the country and overseas. It may not have gotten a lot of publicity, but certainly in the art world, it was something outside of the norm of professional athletes.
“I don’t know if everyone really knows about that, but hopefully it inspired people that it’s OK to do something outside the box. If you have an interest or hobby or something that’s not so stereotypical, it’s OK to share that.”
Best coaches he played for: “Coach K was obviously a great coach. Doug Collins, I learned a great deal from him early in my career. Mike D’Antoni I think offensively is a mastermind and genius. I learned a great deal from him. So I’ve had a lot of coaches—some good, some bad—but I was fortunate to learn from all of them.”
Toughest player to guard: “Now that I’m retired, I can probably say now that I don’t have to see him anymore is Kobe (Bryant). I felt like I played him well, and I felt like I made him work. But I’d go out there and he’d still hit some crazy shots on me. I would’ve liked to go against him when I was younger, and I had some moments when I was in Detroit. Even in recent years, he was tough.
“It was hard to really have a game plan for him because he really didn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses. He could go either way, he could go over each shoulder in the post, he could catch and shoot, he could go off the dribble. A lot of guys have a game plan to try to stick to, and certain guys have tendencies—they prefer going over this shoulder or prefer going right or left—but with Kobe, it was hard to figure him out. I tried to give him a bunch of different looks.”
Thought of a Hill-Bryant segment on Inside Stuff: “Oh yeah. I’d love to sit down with him on the court and maybe even watch some of the plays where I was guarding him and kind of pick his brain. I always felt he was the hardest to guard. Shoot, I want to know what he’s thinking in certain situations and where he’s trying to get to. He was a competitor. It’s hard to say that and acknowledge that. I didn’t mind guarding LeBron and Melo and KD, but Kobe used to give me a lot of problems.”
Playing at 50 years old like MJ: “I don’t know. I had some nagging injuries the last few years, and it just mentally kind of wore me down and I didn’t want to keep going. I was ready to do something different. I probably could’ve gotten another two or three years. I think I really learned to take care of myself. I was under contract for another year, and it was really fulfilling for me to walk away from the game healthy—and walk away still having something left. L.A. still wanted me to come back, but it was time. It was time to go. But 50? Nah, I don’t know if I could go to 50.”
Singing with his wife, R&B artist Tamia, and his musical interests: “I can’t sing, but I can play the keyboards a little bit. If you go on YouTube, we did a little thing she posted, where she’s singing and I’m playing. I can play a little bit. That’s about it. But I can’t sing a lick. With the keyboards, I do current stuff, stuff that my kids like, so everything from the Commodores to Rihanna. It might take me a while to figure it out, but I’ll figure it out.”
More dad time: “I’m busy, but it’s been good sort of balancing and juggling all the things that I have going on, and I get a lot of joy from following them and supporting them and carpooling and play dates. It’s cool. I’m having a blast.”
Other ideas in post-retirement: “I have a lot of interests, a lot of things that I want to try to accomplish. The key for me is not to try to do it all at once, but I have a real strong appetite for building a number of business things. They’re going on right now. I do have an appreciation for the humanities, art, theater—things of that nature. I’m not sure I necessarily want to try to monetize things in that regard. I love politics as well. I grew up in Washington, D.C., and that was something that was always a topic of conversation as a kid and through my adolescence.
“The great thing now is I have time to pursue those and to jump right in, so I’m excited about it. I refuse to believe that the best is behind; I believe the best is in front.”