By ANDREW KEH
Grant Hill celebrated his 41st birthday last month, and on that day he was on the Duke campus, appearing at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of black students attending the university.
As it turned out, the Nets were holding training camp on campus that week, so Hill stopped by practice with plans to tape a segment for his new gig. Hill has begun work this fall as an analyst for Turner Sports and NBA TV.
“Honestly, I had not missed playing,” said Hill, who retired this year after an 18-year playing career. “I had not even thought about it.”
But he stood inside the gym and saw Jason Kidd, with whom he shared the 1995 rookie of the year award, coaching from the sideline. He watched Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, with whom he battled so many years as a player, run the floor. The old feelings came back.
“It was the first time I was like, ‘Man, I miss this,’ ” he said, laughing. “I wanted to be out there with them.”
Besides the occasional nostalgia, Hill has embraced his new role. He joked that he “prolonged his adolescence a little too long” while playing as many seasons as he did. As a broadcaster, he said he was enjoying learning a new craft and adopting a new routine. He kidded that his new co-workers, like Steve Smith and Chris Webber, were hazing him, making him buy coffee and doughnuts and carry a pink backpack.
“I’m a rookie again,” he said.
As he moved toward retirement, Hill heard from a few teams about possible assistant coaching positions. Front-office jobs were discussed, too. But he felt that he needed to step away from the game, to let his mind and body decompress, so he never considered those routes.
This summer, then, represented the moment that he and Kidd diverged on their parallel professional paths. Almost two decades after sharing the rookie award, the two announced their separate retirements within days of each other. “We were forever joined at the hip,” Hill said.
While Hill could not imagine coaching so quickly after retiring, he said he thought Kidd would thrive.
“I was a little shocked it happened so fast, but I think he’s ready,” he said about Kidd. “He brings credibility. He’s not far removed from the game. To be able to connect, to motivate, to inspire today’s modern athlete, he knows what it takes.”
Kidd does not represent Hill’s only link to the Nets. Hill and Billy King, the Nets’ general manager, grew up in neighboring towns in Virginia. King, now 47, played at Park View High School in Sterling, Va. Hill starred at nearby South Lakes High School.
“I was like 10 years old, and Billy was the man in town,” Hill said, laughing. Hill made his first official visit to Duke when he was a high school junior, and King and Tommy Amaker, who now coaches Harvard, showed him around the campus.
Discussing the trade King orchestrated to bring Pierce and Garnett to the Nets, Hill said: “He pulled this rabbit out of his hat. He’s been creative. He’s made bold moves. And I think he’s assembled an amazing team. It’ll be fun to watch.”
Hill said he believed the Nets and the Indiana Pacers were the two teams from the Eastern Conference best equipped to dethrone the Miami Heat. Traits like physicality, size and length, he said, could trouble the Heat, whose interior game could be a weakness. But, Hill added, “it seems like, as the wind blows, my predictions change.”
Hill’s first major assignment will be hosting “NBA Inside Stuff,” which has been off the air since 2005 after a 15-year run. The show returns Saturday on NBA TV, and Hill’s first interview subject will be Garnett, a player he never knew well during his playing career but respected from afar.
“We’ve had some battles,” Hill said about Garnett. “We’ve had exchanges that probably can’t be repeated.”
Hill said that Garnett would be better this year than last — the Nets’ depth should allow him to rest when necessary — and that his intensity and team-first stance could put the Nets over the top.
“He plays every moment like it’s all or nothing,” Hill said. “Every guy who’s played with him thinks the world of him.”