Grant Hill was once ashamed of the 12-inch scar along his left arm, the remnants of a strip of flesh that had to be removed to graft together the skin around his surgically repaired left ankle. It signified so many “woulda, coulda, shouldas” for a career in which his prime years were decimated by injuries. He wanted it covered so that others wouldn’t ask questions about the staph infection that nearly cost him his life and his arduous fight to keep playing basketball.
Having retired from basketball nearly six months ago, the former standout from South Lakes High in Reston has had some time to reflect on his 19-year NBA career and incredible four-year run in college. Hill now believes that the scar, which came as a result of his darkest moment in the NBA, represents his greatest triumph.
“More so than the championships at Duke, the Olympics, the all-stars, the Fila shoes, or whatever else, I think it’s the overcoming and coming back that — I don’t know if it’s legacy or whatever — but I think to people that’s the narrative, that’s the story,” Hill said. “I’m proud of having gone through it. Now looking back at it through a different perspective, it was probably foolish. I probably should’ve hung it up 10 years ago. But I am a little stubborn.”
Hill’s determination and perseverance helped him come back from five ankle surgeries to make another all-star team in 2004-05, after he had missed most of the previous four seasons. He also remade himself at the back end of his career, becoming a defensive stopper and a surprisingly durable player until his body broke down again. Once last season ended, Hill didn’t need much time to think about what was next. He was done.
“I got to the point where I just knew that, okay, it was time to move on, time to do something different. And I had not felt that way at any other point prior,” Hill said. “I think every player, you have to have a fight in you. And I think certainly, when you’re battling or struggling back from injuries or adversities, that certainly is magnified. I got tired of fighting that fight.”
Hill continued: “Certainly, I exhausted my career in terms of playing, so there will be no regrets there. I’m looking for new fights, new challenges.”
Hill, 41, is penning the next chapter of his life, which includes being a partner in a private investment firm, doing some public speaking and staying close to basketball as a broadcaster with Turner Sports. He will be most visible as the co-host for the reboot of “NBA Inside Stuff,” which airs Saturdays on NBA TV. Hill grew up watching the show and he was featured several times on the program as one of the many “main men” of former host, Ahmad Rashad.
“I’m fired up and excited. One of the sort of neat ways you stay around the game and tell the stories of the best basketball players in the world. It’s quite an honor to do so,” Hill said of his latest endeavor. “Ahmad really put his stamp on the show and made the show hugely successful. Those are giant shoes to fill. I know a thing or two about coming after greatness, being called ‘The Next’ or whatever.”
When the Detroit Pistons selected him third overall in 1994, Hill was one of many players expected to take the baton from Michael Jordan and lead the NBA’s next era. Hill was on the right track through his first six seasons, as he shared rookie of the year honors with Jason Kidd, started five all-star games and won an Olympic gold medal with an aggressive, slashing style.
Combined with a four-year college run at Duke that included two national championships and three Final Four appearances, Hill looks back fondly on the 1990s.
“I’m not one to pat my own back, but I look back at that and even sometimes now, I kind of wow myself with what I was able to do,” Hill said. “I certainly didn’t appreciate it, because you’re constantly striving and looking to go forward and get better and not really rest or dwell on what you did or didn’t do in the past. You always can second-guess things, but for the most part, it didn’t get much better. That 10 year-stretch was pretty good.”
Then came the broken ankle in 2000 that stunted his career and ruined a potential championship contender in Orlando. Hill returned to become a productive player, mostly in Phoenix, where he advanced to Western Conference finals in 2010. That season marked the only time he was able to get out of the first round.
“I’m proud of coming back and my last [five] years in Phoenix, finding great joy and fulfillment in sort of reinventing yourself,” Hill said. “I know, in retrospect, that’s not an easy thing to do, either.”
Hill was often the first or second option in Detroit and Orlando, then became the fifth option in Phoenix. In his final season, Hill latched on with the Los Angeles Clippers in one last pursuit of a championship and joked, “Last year, I was the last option.”
After announcing his retirement, Hill said he was offered opportunities to stay involved with basketball as a coach or a front-office executive but felt that he needed to “decompress” from the game. He lives in Isleworth, Fla., with his wife, Tamia, and their daughters, Myla and Lael. But after getting adjusted to the rhythm of the NBA season, Hill is now searching for the proper balance of work and family since his time away from basketball has been no vacation.
“Sometimes I feel like there are not enough hours in the day. I thought retirement was sipping lemonade on the porch. I haven’t had time to do that. Plus, I really don’t like lemonade,” Hill said. “My wife, a couple of weeks ago, jokingly said: ‘I want you to go back and play. I think I see you more when you’re playing.’ It’s different. I’m busy but it’s a different kind of routine. But I like it. I like the fact that I’m mentally stimulated.”
Hill said he has also has spent the past few months going over his career as his children watch his old highlights on YouTube. “All of that sort of reminds of me where I was and what could’ve been, but it’s not like I’m going to take this bitterness to the grave as a result,” he said, “It’s not like I’m up at night, like, what could’ve been. Actually, I very rarely do. I’ve kind of accepted what happened. And I’m content with it, if it makes any sense.”