Hill's Magic Returns
Saturday, April 21, 2007
During a 10-second span in the third quarter of the Orlando Magic's 95-89 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, Grant Hill blocked a jumper by Wizards reserve Donell Taylor and then sprinted down the court to catch a pass from Jameer Nelson for a breakaway dunk.
The 34-year-old would have called it a flashback moment, but Hill was stumped when he tried to recall the last time he recorded a block and dunk so swiftly. "I never, ever got a block, period," Hill joked.
There is no denying that Hill will achieve a real first today in Detroit: He will finally don a Magic jersey in the playoffs. This is significant given the medical history of the Reston native who has endured an arduous six seasons in Orlando, filled with setbacks, ankle resettings, six surgeries, heartache and a near-death experience. It would be easy to say Hill had a bumpy tenure with the Magic, but it wouldn't do justice to the emotionally draining and physically grinding mountains Hill had to climb to reach this moment. "A lot of players would've given up a long time ago," Magic Coach Brian Hill said.
Grant Hill has no explanation for his dogged determination to keep coming back for more -- "I guess I'm stupid, I don't know," he said -- but at least he won't leave the game without another taste of the playoffs. "On a personal level, it's exciting to finally get a chance to play in that environment again," Hill said. "My team has been there but I haven't had a chance to play. I'm looking forward to it."
Now that Hill is in the postseason, the question is whether this will be his only appearance with the Magic. His contract expires at the end of the season and he has hinted at retirement. "At this point, I can't make that decision. I would be shortchanging myself and my teammates and what we're trying to accomplish now. So, when the time comes, I'll give it some thought," Hill said. "We'll see. I'll sit down at the end of the year, figure out what I want to do. Good thing is, I have options. I can play, not play. I can return to Orlando or hopefully go anywhere I want to. I understand that tomorrow is not given to you. That's the only thing I've learned through all of this."
Hill hasn't been to the playoffs since the 2000 season, his last in Detroit. He said facing his former team doesn't make it any more special. "When you're on the court, there is no emotion," he said. "It's probably a good story, but no."
Hill is a shell of the player he was the last time he was in the playoffs in 2000 when he averaged 25.8 points in the regular season and received the "Next Michael Jordan" label. He played two playoff games despite a bone bruise in his left ankle. The injury forced him to miss the final three games of the regular season, but in an effort to prove his toughness and play through excruciating pain, Hill returned in time for the Pistons' playoff series against Miami. He hobbled off the floor during Game 2 of the series, which Detroit lost in three games, and doctors later determined that he had broken the ankle.
"I was told it was okay," Hill said, explaining his reasoning for playing hurt. "Maybe I was a little green, but you believe everything is okay, you trust your medical staff. I was told I was fine. It was a matter of sucking it up. I was led to believe there was no more damage to be done. What I've learned from that is that there is always more damage to be done.
"I played because I wanted to play," Hill said. "I probably shouldn't have. If I could go back I would do it different, but hey, you live and you learn."
Hill still signed a seven-year, $93 million contract with the Magic -- on crutches, no less -- and was expected to form a lethal tandem with Tracy McGrady. But Hill was mostly a spectator during the McGrady Era, playing 4, 14 and 29 games his first three seasons in Orlando. McGrady led the Magic to three straight playoff appearances, but in 2003, Hill couldn't even watch the series against Detroit from the sideline. He was forced to have a fifth surgery on his left ankle, which led to a staph infection and a 104.5-degree temperature that hospitalized him for several weeks. "I was just happy to be [alive] watching the series," Hill said. "That was a tough time. Not because Detroit was playing Orlando. It was tough because it was tough."
Hill missed the 2003-04 season recovering from the surgery, but he made a dramatic comeback, earning his seventh all-star appearance in 2005, but the playoffs remained elusive until now. "When I went down, I was 26 and I was just hitting my prime and having it all figured out. Lo and behold, you get hurt. This opportunity may not come again," Hill said.
"The experience of dealing with all the frustrations and all the misfortune after that [last playoff game in 2000], it makes you stronger and it really makes you grow from that. I'm just enjoying the moment."