I know it's hard to believe today, but before he became a limping human interest story, Grant Hill was one of the best basketball players in the world. He was a two-time NCAA champion (at Duke), NBA co-rookie of the year (with Jason Kidd), an Olympic gold medallist (on Dream Team II), a perennial All-Star (for the Detroit Pistons), and a charter member of the "Next Jordan" Club (alongside Harold Minor, Penny Hardaway, Jerry Stackhouse, and whoever else you want to name).
In August of 2000, Hill’s hard work, dedication, and all-around good guyness was rewarded in the form of a 7-year, $93 million contract courtesy of the Orlando Magic. There he would be teamed with up-and-coming superstar Tracy McGrady, and everybody anticipated the Magic becoming a league powerhouse almost overnight.
But as we all know, that didn’t happen. Thanks to a wide variety of debilitating ankle injuries, Hill played in only 200 games (and missed 374) over his seven years with the Magic. The bulk of those games came in the last three years; he played in only 47 games (out of 328) during his first four seasons in Orlando (otherwise known as the "Tracy McGrady is on his own" Era).
The injuries were grueling, and the surgeries were even moreso. In fact, after one surgery in March of 2003, he developed a staph infection and nearly died. As low points go, "almost dead" ranks just slightly ahead of "actually dead."
Hill made a comeback of sorts over the last three years, playing 67 games in 2004-05 (and averaging a surprising 19.7 PPG) and 65 games last season (averaging a solid 14.4 PPG). There were plenty of teary-eyed tributes and inspirational stories about how he bravely fought through terrible adversity to play the game he loves. As moving as those featurettes usually were, it probably should have been pointed out that he wasn't exactly saving kittens from a burning building, or helping old ladies across the street. But whatever.
Despite all the inspiration, I'm sure the Magic organization was glad that Hill's behemoth contract expired this summer. However, I'm also sure they felt as though they deserved first dibs on his continued services, and on the cheap. After all, hadn't they been patient and diligent in his care? They never tried to rush him back, or force him to play through injuries. As far as I'm aware, they never tried to buy him out or ask him to restructure his contract to ease their salary cap burdens (which were significant). Sure, they appealed to the league for injury exceptions, but by all accounts they treated Hill as well as any organization would have, under the circumstances (which were grim).
Hill didn't give the Magic a chance, though. Instead, he immediately bolted for the Phoenix Suns in what we must assume is one last, desperate gamble for a championship. On the one hand, it's hard to begrudge him that opportunity after all he's suffered through. But on the other hand, Hill really should have rewarded some of the loyalty the Magic have shown him over the last seven years. What happened to Mr. Good Guy? I mean, it's hard to argue that he left Detroit for the money back in 2000, and it's even harder to argue that he's leaving the Magic for a shot at glory. You expect that kind of behavior from most NBA players, but Hill was supposed to be above that sort of thing, a character guy, a Sportsmanship Award winner.
Well, the Magic fans are pissed. Just read some of those comments. I haven't seen a fanbase this bitter and potentially dangerous since, well, since the Celtics "lost" the NBA draft. The sense of betrayal is so strong that many of the fans are openly wishing for Hill to break his ankles (among other things). Most of them think he robbed the Magic and gave very little in return, and it's hard to blame them for feeling that way. I mean, you'll notice that Hill never offered to alter his contract in the team's favor, or pull a Derek Fisher and just set them free of it. No, he expected every dime of that $93 million. And then, as soon as he got the chance, he split.
It's a shame. I always had a lot of respect for Grant Hill. And while I understand that the NBA is, unfortunately, an "every man for himself" business, I frankly still feel that he owed the Magic a little better than that.
Labels: Grant Hill, huge contracts, injuries, Orlando Magic
anonymous -- Thanks for the kind words. By the way, Brazilian women are freaking beautiful. Sorry, just had to point that out.
big s%*@-eating grin ready to take another for the team. When's the last time you saw an athlete voluntarily give money back b/c he missed time due to injury? That's exactly why guys sign guaranteed contracts.
Oh, and Grant did screw the Pistons but to be fair he gave them 6 absolutely amazing seasons of basketball before he left.
Look, normally I enjoy reading basketbawful posts and respect their candor and insight. I just disagree with you guys on this one really, really strongly.
We'll just have to see...
This has become a favorite blog of mine. It's not so good and popular that 10 people a minute comment on it (Abbot's), and the writer doesn't have their head stuck in their ass (Bill Simmons...)
Overall, I'm disappointed in Grant's decision, but I have no animosity towards him. I'd be interested to hear what a Pistons fan has to say. Anybody?
Also to the above poster. Yes, the west hasn't gotten any easier with Oden and Durant, but Hill only signed a 2 year deal with PHX (for league minimum, btw), and it's unlikely Portland or Seattle will even be in the playoffs in that time, let alone standing in Phoenix's title path.
As for the weather playing a role in his decision, can you blame him? He just came off of 7 years in Orlando, so he's used to nice weather. Why would he want to go back to Detroit? Also, if he was trying to pick the best Eastern team, the obvious choice would be the Cavs anyway. He could back up Lebron, and the Cavs would finally have some punch off the bench (I'm talking to you, Donyell, you P.O.S.)
I also want to know where Orlando gets off thinking Grant Hill is the missing piece. Who in their right mind thinks the absence of Grant Hill by himself is stopping them from being a contender. He is a nice piece to the puzzle but the Magic can't/won't make nearly enough moves to get over that hump in the East, let alone the league. I applaud the guy for wanting to win and passing up 5-6 million dollar contracts to go play for a winner. People want to play in Phoenix because they score non-stop. Scoring = Fun (but probably not championship) Defense = Boring (and probably winning). We'll see if the suns can pull it off.
He decided about his last contract as a profesional, but still, not as the "good guy" which he supposed to be...
And, to be quite frank, the lack of loyalty among players and teams has hurt the NBA, so I don't think citing that "everybody" does it is really a worthy defense of the situation.
And bd -- You say the Magic were patient and diligent in his care because "they were contractually obligated to do so." Hardly. There was nothing in his contract about the team needing to be nice with him. They could have pressured him to play. They could have taken shots at him in the press. They could have tried to minimize the amount spent on his rehab after years of fruitless efforts to get him healthy. They could have bought him out and forced him to pay all his medical expenses on his own. There are countless things they could have done to make his life more difficult and theirs easier...but they didn't. Think on that.
As far as your problem with lack of loyalty, do you think teams stick with washed up players because they gave it 100% a few years ago? "Hey Brevin Knight, thanks for coming on board with us (Bobcats) in 04. We appreciate the effort you put into the team...oh yeah and there's the door." You tell me when a team gave a guy a good deal because of prior play.
As far as pressuring Hill to play. That would have lasted all of 10 seconds before Hill said "uhhh i'm gonna go with no." You also mentioned a potential buyout. Imagine your boss walking up to you and saying "I know we still have to pay you $40 million if you work for us for the next 2 years, but we are pissed...so we're giving you $36 million (standard buy-out rate) to leave and get another job." I would personally first ask if they were talking to me before I signed ASAP. Even IF he had to pay his own medical bills (which he doesn't, the union has a fund for it), I don't think his bills came to $36 million. The Magic saying stuff to the media is a non-argument. Grant Hill would probably just whip out a check for a couple million to a charity and it would be business as usual. Not to mention he had legit injuries.
So yeah, I think Grant should have at least talked to the Magic before making his decision. I don't have to give two weeks notice if I leave my job, but it's considered common courtesy. And I think Grant could have been a little more courteous to the Magic franchise, considering how his injuries torpedoed them for years.
And I'm also not saying Grant would have played if pressured. But they sure could have made his life an annoying, miserable mess while he tried to rehab. It wouldn't have been the first time. Hell, Phil Jackson is famous for making subtly criticizing his injured players. And it's amazing how often that kind of behavior can swing public sentiment or perception against a guy. According to Hill himself, the injuries and rehab were a "nightmare." Imagine if his team had been bashing him the whole time?
The point of bringing up a buyout is this. I would guess most teams thought Grant Hill was done. If they had bought him out, say, after the third or fourth year of his contract, who would have given him a chance? He was considered damaged goods. And even if someone had given him a chance, he probably would have gotten injured again -- as he did with the Magic -- and that would have been it. I doubt he would have even had a chance at signing with a contender.