The mother of two with the angelic voice already had held a morning meeting with Santa Claus and would be shopping for presents in the afternoon.
Her husband was slated to compact his tall frame at a cafeteria table for the chicken fajita lunch with their older daughter’s kindergarten class.
But at this point, the couple convened cozily on the couch – 5-year-old Myla was at school – along with resting 4-month-old Lael and Sweetie, the family’s Maltese. The husband and wife talked about life, love, laughs and lessons when she noticed that they both were wearing jeans with silver shirts.
“I got dressed before you,” she said.
“I wore this to take Myla to school,” he retorted in the first of a few playful debates, such as how she saw his eyes slightly open – though he didn’t offer to get up – when Lael cried in the middle of the night.
More glamorous days often are the norm for the Valley’s newest celebrity couple, as Grant Hill is enjoying a career renaissance with the Suns and Tamia maintains her career as a Grammy-nominated songstress with four albums.
The real glamour is in their everyday romance. It is a bond forged out of a 1996 blind date arranged by Anita Baker. It is a bond strengthened by helping each other through scares and recoveries caused by his life-threatening staph infection after one of five ankle surgeries and her multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
They put the “power” in power couple. Grant took charge of his basketball career, passing on residential roots, better money and deeper bonds to join the Suns for what has proved to be the right situation. Tamia took charge of her music career, starting her own label, Plus 1 Music Group, and working more than ever to run it.
Less than six months ago, Grant said, “Maybe we should move,” to Tamia after they had bought their “forever” home in Orlando, where he played for the Magic from 2000 to 2007. The Hills have barely stopped moving since then. He signed with the Suns in July and bought their Paradise Valley home with Tamia’s approval by video because she carried Lael until August.
“The one thing all of this – the surgeries, moving, everything – has really taught us is to be open to change,” Tamia said, with Grant adding, “I’ve noticed people move here and don’t move back.”
A perfect start
Their bliss began with a leap of faith. Tamia was merely a fan of Baker when the multi-platinum star approached her at the Soul Train Music Awards and blurted, “I have the perfect guy for you.”
Baker told her about Grant, who had met Baker at a Pistons game and had begun playing tennis with Baker’s husband.
Tamia had grown up in Detroit’s neighboring city, Windsor, Ontario, but lived in California at the time. She did not meet Grant for another six months, when Tamia ran into Grant’s friends at a Los Angeles talent show.
“Anita put him in my conscience,” Tamia said, as Grant gave Baker credit for lending him credibility.
“It was love at first sight,” Grant said, but not before embellishing that Tamia saw his billboard in Detroit and wanted to meet him, to which Tamia said, “Oh, I don’t think so. You wish I did.”
The Hills married in Michigan in July 1999, a year before his sign-and-trade move for a $93 million deal with Orlando.
“Anita has since told me to stop telling that story,” Tamia said. “All her friends call up and say, ‘What about me? Do you have any more of those?’ ”
Tamia sang at their wedding, but she can offer no help or hope for Grant’s voice, which Myla mocks on the morning car rides to school.
“I try to help him, but it’s not there,” Tamia said.
“If she was really good, she’d be able to help me,” Grant countered. “I could help her with her basketball game.”
But when he lost his ability to play, she could only help him through it. A series of left-ankle surgeries stemmed from playing on an injured ankle in the 2000 playoffs with Detroit. A March 2003 operation to realign his left heel led to a staph infection, 104-degree fever and convulsions a week later that threatened his life.
He recovered. Five months later, Tamia was diagnosed with MS.
“It’s almost the same in mind,” Tamia said. “You get the sudden news, and then there’s a road you have to take to deal with it and get yourself better. I think you are always concerned for someone other than yourself. When you love someone and see them going through something, you want to fight for them – sometimes, more than yourself.”
It infuriated her to hear the perceptions and criticisms that came Hill’s way in Orlando, where he missed 374 of a possible 574 games in seven seasons with the Magic.
She saw him sitting in ice buckets in the backyard, swimming like he was trying to cross the ocean and turning family vacations into rehabilitations. Even a close confidant made a veiled suggestion that Hill see a psychologist.
“A change was needed, because all of that emotion was there in Orlando,” said Hill, who was booed unmercifully and lambasted as a greedy traitor in his return to Orlando last month with the Suns. “It made me feel like I was responsible. I was wrong. I was the problem. That was always the undertone. You’ve got your employer looking at you like ‘Are you going to quit?’ and even asking you at various times to go ahead and retire.”
But how could he stop fighting when he saw his wife take on MS so strongly and not miss a beat in her career? Her MS is “relapsing remising,” and remains mysterious to them but has caused no physical trouble other than occasional fatigue.
“With mine, there are scars and crutches and reminders of it,” Grant said. “With her, because she’s so busy and active, I forget about it. She doesn’t complain about it.”
In fact, there are times that Tamia wishes she had not announced the diagnosis two years ago.
“I’m sick of being defined by it,” she said. “I don’t want to be a lifelong MS-er. I’ve done so much more in my career and in my life, that to be defined by three words – she has MS – irritates me sometimes. I have days where I’m glad I did when I meet people my age on the road who have MS as well. I take pride that they can see someone staying positive and healthy.”
Grant’s return sends an equally uplifting message. Several NBA veterans talk about how easy and rational it would have been for Grant to walk away. He had the money. He had attempted numerous comebacks. He had screws and zipper scars in an ankle that he would need to play with his daughters.
Retirement was one of this summer’s options, but he chose Phoenix over Detroit. He has a two-year, $3.8 million contract with a second-year player option. No front office can claim a deal with more bang for the buck. Hill, 35, is averaging 16.0 points on 50 percent shooting with 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
“The idea of picking up and going elsewhere was like, ‘Well, is it really worth it?’ ” he said. “But it has been, and not just basketball.”
Tamia raves about how inclusive the organization has been for families, joining the team for camp and road trips and how players can visit the arena’s kids room before, during and after games.
Hill is a doting dad to the point that Myla cried when she saw a pool safety commercial showing Dad playing with other kids and when he tossed T-shirts at the Tucson scrimmage to other kids. But Hill, the son of former NFL running back Calvin Hill, cringes about tales of being a superdad because he takes care of his kids. Like Chris Rock said, “You’re supposed to.”
He drives Myla to school at 7 a.m. but also tries to sleep through Lael’s cries at 3 a.m.
“I’m tired,” said Grant, whom Tamia finds taking midday naps near her in-house office. “I play 35 minutes a night. I need my rest.”
Grant had never played with a true point guard until he was paired with Suns teammate Steve Nash this season. Even though Nash might help Hill complete a career resume that includes a college title, Olympic gold medal, All-Star Games, commercials and signature shoes, Nash is not even the Canadian whom Hill appreciates most.
Tamia is his MVP.
Together, the Hills survive and thrive.