Grant Hill Q&A: Life After Basketball
It was 20 years ago this spring that Grant Hill closed out his excellent career at Duke with a hard-fought title game loss to Arkansas. Yet it was only last June that Hill retired as a player, following a 19-year NBA career (much of which was injury-plagued).
Now 41 years old, Hill currently devotes himself to a myriad of philanthropic activities. Among them: The NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams, which recently named 10 men’s and women’s players across Divisions I-III and the NAIA to its 2014 roster.
Lost Lettermen’sJim Weber recently spoke with Hill about his long-awaited life after basketball, comparisons to current Blue Devils star Jabari Parker, Mike Krzyzewski’s future and more.
Lost Lettermen: Everyone knows how involved you are in community service, but how did you get involved in the “Good Works Team” and what is your role with them?
Grant Hill: I’m involved, I’m a partner – one of the National Ambassadors for this Good Works Allstate NABC Good Works Team. NABC is the National Association of Basketball Coaches. It’s the second year of this program and really an opportunity to honor college basketball players for all that they do in their respective communities, charitable achievements and so on.
I’m just honored to be a part of it. You know, I had an experience and an opportunity to do community work in college and I know it left a lasting impact on me. To see all of these kids – 117 nominees that we will ultimately choose from, they choose ten players to be a part of this team – it’s great. It really is. And, I’m just excited that these young guys are doing some amazing things and understand the importance of giving back and really just embodying everything that this award is about.
It’s important. I think we need to emphasize this, we need to publicize this and we need to talk about this and I’m just excited, like I said, to be a part of it. Like I said, I got experience in college which has stuck with me and I’ve continued that even though I’m now, obviously, 20 years removed from being a student athlete and retired from the NBA – I still get great satisfaction and enjoyment from doing things in the community.
LL: You’re doing some announcing work, TNT, NBA TV, bringing back “Inside Stuff” – which, as a child of the 90s, I’m very excited about. Do you see yourself as an announcing “lifer”? There’s a lot of talk you could work at a front office, you could get into coaching, maybe even politics. There’s so many paths you could choose. Do you have an idea what you’ll be doing five years from now?
GH: You know, I don’t have an idea. I’m doing the broadcasting. I’m enjoying that. I’m doing “Inside Stuff,” do some work on NBA TV. I do TNT “Inside the NBA” from time to time. So, I enjoy that. I get a chance to stay around the game, get a chance to talk about the great talent and bring my perspective and analyzing and breaking down what’s happening on the court.
I also, in a whole other world, I’m a partner in a mezzanine private equity fund. And so, I’m kind of doing the world of finance and the world of broadcasting. But, that’s been quite enjoyable – we have a great team, great partners, great analysts. I’m busy running around and worrying, but also working in that world. So, I have a lot of interests, a lot of things that I enjoy. And, I’ve been fortunate to be very busy since I retired this past summer.
And, who knows what’s in store down the road? Who knows if broadcasting becomes a full-time career? Who knows if politics is on the horizon? But my struggle, my challenge is not to do everything at once. I get a chance now to explore and do things that I wasn’t able to do for 19 years while I was playing in the NBA and let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun.
LL: I wanted to ask you about Jabari Parker. There’s been so many comparisons between you and Jabari. What similarities do you see in his game and what differences do you see?
GH: I think Jabari is a very versatile player. You know, I think he has good size on him. He’s obviously a little bigger than I was in his frame. I was known as being a versatile guy and I think, certainly, he is extremely versatile, he can handle the ball, he can facilitate, he can pass, can post – you know, he just does it all out there. So, that’s something I think people easily want to make that comparison.
But, there are also some differences. But, he’s a great player and we’re lucky to have him on our team. And, I’ve really enjoyed watching him grow and develop. Early on, he was scoring at will and putting up great numbers, but I really like how he’s scoring now and how he’s more engaged as a teammate. Even in that game against Syracuse when I thought he was – you know he fouled out – I thought it was a bad call, but he wasn’t on the bench moping. He was very much engaged, he was yelling, he was showing enthusiasm, he was supportive.
That’s part of being a leader. And so he’s a good kid, great family. And hopefully, he and the rest of the guys will continue to get better and be ready to go when March Madness comes around.
LL: There’s been so much speculation that he actually could stay in college, which right now, is just unheard of – except for Marcus Smart – to be a top five pick and stay in school. As someone that stayed four years at Duke, where do you sit on whether he should stay? A lot of people say, “Why not get paid millions of dollars to continue to hone your game?” while others say, “If he wants to stay in college, he should do that.”
GH: Well, I think it’s all speculation. I mean I don’t think he knows right now. He’s so consumed, I’m sure, with playing and the season and getting better. He’s really bought in and he’s 100% invested and just mentally consumed in what’s going on there. I think when the season is over, he’ll have a chance to sit down with his family and make that decision.
At the end of the day, it’s not rocket science, it’s not the end of the world, either decision is not a bad decision. I think the most important thing is that he’s got to do is what he feels comfortable with. And I’m sure he will.
Ultimately, we can speculate. I don’t know – I don’t know what’s going to happen. A lot can happen between now and then. Tell you what, it’s good to be young and it’s good to have all of those options. He’s in a good place right now. Hopefully, he can have a great finish to this season and then make a decision that’s best for him.
LL: Going back to your time at Duke, what is your favorite on-court memory? You have so many. Beating the 1991 UNLV team that everyone thought was Goliath. You have the one-handed dunk from Bobby Hurley that is still replayed today. You have the pass to Christian Laettner, of course. Is there one moment that stands out to you that you cherish above the rest?
GH: I have some good moments, some great moments. In a weird kind of way, the great moments aren’t the moments that I remember the most. They are probably the ones I see the most because I get to relive them on TV during March Madness.
Funny story: When I had that dunk against Kansas, I had forgotten about that dunk after the game until I saw the highlights the next day that I even remember I did that dunk. I think the main thing I remember - certainly I was fortunate to have some, be a part of some great plays, play on some great teams, and to have those moments on that kind of stage - but really it was just the times together as teammates, the bonding, the experiences, practice, the locker room, traveling on the road. All that time and all those experiences, those are the things that I remember.
The highlights, I get a chance to relive every year during March Madness and I’m grateful for that, but it was really the relationships and the experiences that meant the most.
LL: A lot of people don’t remember that when you guys beat UNLV, you guys were considered the huge underdog, the David vs. Goliath. Now, everyone knows Duke as this Evil Empire. What’s it like for you to have experienced Duke being this bridesmaid that was never the bride and now to be hated by so many people for no reason other than being a great program? Are you guys proud of having built the monster at Duke? Or do you guys just blame Christian Laettner for everyone hating you guys?
GH: I don’t know if everybody hates us. Evil Empire? I think that’s a little harsh (laughs).
I think when I arrived there, Duke had come up short. They had been to the dance, been to the Final Four, but had not won. And so in Vegas, that was – people may not remember – but that team was people actually thought they would win and do that in the NBA. They were that talented and that feared. So, it was a different time where people were kind of rooting for us, pulling for us. We hadn’t quite got there. And we were fortunate to actually get over that hump and help Coach K win and win two championships.
I think people just … there’s no gray area. I think people love or they don’t love Duke. I think a lot of it is just because of the continued success. I look at it as a compliment. I think of the Yankees, I think of maybe the Cowboys in not so much recent years but when they were winning a lot. People either love to be associated, love to pull for a winner or they love to hate winners.
But it’s really a credit to Coach K that 20 years later they’re still relevant. Twenty years later, he’s still a premier coach. He is the premier coach in college basketball; 20 years later he’s coaching the Olympic Team. He has LeBron James, Kevin Durant and all these guys that think the world of him. And so, what he’s been able to do over a long period of time is really quite remarkable.
And if people want to hate that, that’s fine. He’s not going anywhere, Duke’s not going anywhere. He’s continuing to do what he’s done for the last 30 years.
LL: It goes without saying that college basketball, the level of talent just isn’t the same as it was when you were playing because so many players leave for the NBA. But there’s been a huge discussion about how to improve the game. There was the freedom of movement rules that came last year, there’s talk about lowering the shot clock. What would you like to see change in college basketball to kind of get it back to the glory days where it was a more popular sport than it is today?
GH: They can try to change all these rules. I think that’s just sort of the window dressing to be quite honest. I think a lot of it is what you mentioned at first. You had players that stayed in school longer. In my four years at Duke, people - whether you liked Duke or not - you knew who the players were. You followed Christian Laettner. You followed his freshman year; he missed basically a free throw that would have won the game against Arizona, and you saw the disappointment. Then, you saw two years later, he came back and hit some big free throws to beat Vegas in the Final Four.
And so good, bad or indifferent, you knew who these people were. You followed these people. You knew the players. I followed basketball in the 80s, and I was a Georgetown fan, I followed St. John’s and Syracuse and I knew who those players were because they stayed in school longer. And now, you know, it’s different. Good players are gone after a year or two. So I think that’s the main thing. The quality of play may not be as good because a lot of those guys are in the NBA.
But also, it’s like every year is a revolving door. You knew who Bobby Hurley was, you knew who Christian Laettner was, you knew who I was because we were there every year. So I think that’s the big thing and it’s not really in the hands of the NCAA. It’s in the hands of the NBA and the NBA Players Association.
Times are different and obviously you can’t really go back to those years. You can try to tweak things here and there. But, Jabari Parker – it would be great to watch him for four years. I doubt that will happen. But if Jabari Parker is in college basketball for four years, then it’s going to be exciting to watch. At least exciting to watch if you’re a Duke fan.
LL: Do you support the idea of raising the age limit to 20?
GH: I think it would help. It would force these guys to stay in school for two years. I can’t see how that would hurt. I think it would be good for the NBA. I think it would be good for college.
LL: It feels like Coach K hasn’t aged a day in about 30 years. But he is almost 70. How much do you think he has left in the tank to stay on the sideline at Duke?
GH: You know, I’m really impressed with just his amount of energy, his level of energy. He basically has two jobs, two full-time jobs. He’s coaching at Duke with all that’s required there. He’s doing the Olympic team. He goes out and does a number of speeches. So he’s just a busy man who doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down at all.
I think he has the benefit of having former players on his staff that know him, know his ways, know the Duke way, know what he’s all about. I’m sure he delegates more now than he did in years past. But I don’t see him slowing down at all. I’ve often wondered, but when I see him or I speak to him on the phone, he’s on the go, he’s on the move, he’s energetic.
There’s an old expression: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” And Coach K, I think he thinks he’s in his early 40s because he’s certainly acting like somebody in their early 40s. We know that day will ultimately come at some point and we’re just thankful and appreciative that he’s still there, still doing it, still getting the job done.
LL: Do you get excited thinking that someday your former teammate Bobby Hurley could be replacing Coach K since he’s now the head coach at Buffalo? Or do you even speculate who might replace Coach K someday?
GH: I think it would be somebody or hopefully it would be somebody that’s in the Duke Family. Certainly it’s great that there’s a lot of former players who are out coaching now in college basketball and hopefully coach at least is around for another five years.
Hopefully, guys will build their resumes up and be in a position to be candidates. So I think there’s a lot of good options out there. A lot of possible candidates. It will be interesting to see, when that day comes, who it might be.