On Sunday night during the Game 6 broadcast of the Heat-Pacers game, Grant Hill announced the conclusion of a 19 year career that will almost certainly lead to his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
Nevertheless, the legacy of the stellar career will always make one wonder what might have been had the versatile athlete not been cursed with the most brittle ankles known to man.
In a sense, Hill was the first of a new era. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons after Jordan’s first retirement, he quickly became one of the game’s most popular players as basketball fans searched for new superstars, and his skills on the hardwood showed a complete player and a dominant scorer as he was named to the All-Star team in each of his first six seasons.
Following his highest scoring output of 25.8 ppg in the 1999-00 season, Hill bolted for the Magic set to pair up with Tracy McGrady to form what many believed would be a dominant scoring tandem that would vault Orlando to the upper echelons of the league.
That never happened.
An ankle injury that Hill suffered the previous season limited him to just 4 games in his first season in Orlando. Injury after injury kept him mostly out of action until the 2004-05 season where he came the closest he ever came to his old self scoring 19.7 points per contest.
The next year, however, he only played in 21 games and he would never return to form.
Many will be tempted to remember Hill as he was in his final seasons in the NBA. Once he joined the Phoenix Suns, he was a solid role player, averaging double digits in scoring and contributing solid defensive performances. Yet the lightning quick first step and overall athleticism that made him one of the game’s greats early in his career was gone.
In his final season with the Clippers, injuries kept Hill to only 29 games played, and he finally called it quits.
While his lengthy career proved to be a rough journey, he deserves to be remembered for the player who could have been. His incredible start to his NBA career forces one to wonder exactly how lofty his status among the greats of the game would be had those ankles held up. Following his sixth season, his numbers were only surpassed by Oscar Robinson, Larry Bird, and, later, Lebron James.
The former Duke Blue Devil also deserves to be remembered for tremendous perseverance as not many would continue coming back as he did with so little hope of returning to former glory. In the early part of the the century, it looked like he would never play more than a handful of games in a season again, yet he pressed on and became only the seventh player to average more than 13 points per game while being at least 38 years old.
Yes, as we say goodbye to Grant Hill, his legacy is secure as a Hall of Famer and great basketball player. Yet, unfortunately, we will never know how much more significant that legacy might have been.