People who wander through the desert hope to stumble upon an oasis.
Thirty-seven-year-old Grant Hill plays basketball in the Arizona desert and he’s found the fountain of youth.
Hill missed 374 games during his disastrous seven-season tenure with the Orlando Magic, but he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Phoenix Suns. He played in all of the Suns’ games last season, and he’s played a significant role in his team’s strong start this fall.
“My daughter gave him the name ‘Benjamin Button’ last year,” Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry said. “He seems to be going the other way.”
Hill looked relaxed in his visit to Orlando last week to face the Magic. Working with Phoenix’s renowned training staff has rejuvenated him. Aside from the specs of white that dot his dark goatee, he more closely resembles the player who started his NBA career in Detroit than the one who hobbled throughout most of his time with the Magic.
“There were times last year where I did things and I’m running down the court [and I say to myself], ‘Man, I haven’t done that since I was in Detroit,’” Hill said.
That has continued this season. Hill is averaging 13.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Best of all, Phoenix has started the season with a 7-1 record that includes an impressive road victory against the Boston Celtics.
Miami’s Dwyane Wade approached Hill during a recent game and asked, “What do you do, man? I want to do what you do when I’m 37.”
Hill smiled as he recounted the conversation with Wade. All the steps he’s taken to stay healthy are working. Hill started to monitor his diet carefully around 2001 or 2002 so he wouldn’t gain weight as he recovered from surgery on his left ankle.
Magic fans booed him relentlessly during Orlando’s 122-100 victory over Phoenix at Amway Arena. They booed him when his name came up during pregame introductions. They booed him sometimes when Hill merely touched the ball.
Hill said he isn’t bothered when he returns to the Am. He feels better about his game and about his role than he did the last two times he returned to the arena. A few Magic employees stopped by the Phoenix locker room before tipoff to say hello. Hill also maintains a home in Central Florida and stays in touch with some of his former Magic teammates.
“I’m at peace,” Hill said. “I know the team’s gone on and had great success.”
Missing all those games earlier this decade makes him appreciate his recent success even more. Gentry tries to give him time off, but Hill doesn’t want to even miss a minute of practice.
Hill’s current contract will run out after next season, when he’ll be 38.
He says he’d like to play at least through the 2011-12 season.
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’m going to play until they tell you, ‘You can’t play no more.’ Once it’s over, it’s over.”
Right now, Hill feels thankful just to feel young again.