Tuck: Grant Hill’s Incomplete Legacy

Grant Hill will be a Hall of Famer one day.  When you add up his incredible college career, with his early NBA dominance, his unexpected longevity, and his Olympics success he’ll be honored eventually.  And he’ll deserve it.  It’s just not quite as good as it could have been.  Just think what could have been.

It’s also not what Magic fans want to hear or read about.  I get that.  That gap in the resume that will lead many to question Hill’s place in history is hard to ignore.  And impossible for Orlando Magic fans to forget.

The summer of 2000 to the Magic was what the summer of 2010 was to the Heat.  Orlando painstakingly cleared cap space after the departures of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.  And while they didn’t get Tim Duncan that summer, they got the next best things, and perhaps even more upside with Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady.

Grant Hill was in the prime of his career and was one of the best players in the world at the time.  It’s easy to forget how great he was.

His 6 seasons in Detroit, his numbers looked like this:

(Points-Rebounds-Assists)19-6-5, 18-8-6, 20-8-7, 19-7-6, 20-7-6, 25-6-5

Grant Hill was a cross between Scottie Pippen and LeBron James.  He did a little bit of everything, and by a little, I mean a lot.  Other than a young Jerry Stackhouse, his supporting cast was lackluster in Detroit.  He was going to be teamed with a 21-year old that looked ready to break out after scoring 15 ppg in his final season in Toronto.  Little did we know T-Mac would blossom to be as dominant as anyone could have dreamed.  Little did we know he’d have to do it mostly without Grant Hill by his side.

Grant Hill would only play 4 games in his first season with the Magic after he now infamously was seen getting off the plane in a walking boot on crutches before he arrived.  That has become the image that would define his seven years in Orlando.  Hill would only play in 14 games the following season, just 29 the year after that, and would miss the 2003 season completely.

Grant Hill would play a total of 200 regular season games in his seven seasons in Orlando.

What we thought was a catastrophe for Detroit, losing their franchise player, turned into a blessing in disguise and an eventual NBA championship.  We thought was a brewing dynasty in Orlando turned into a sad story.

So much promise.  So much hope.  There was no big party with Hill and T-Mac talking about, “not 2, not 3, not 4..,” but there could have been.

As much as most Magic fans might point to Shaq leaving or Dwight Howard being traded as the most disappointing moments in Magic history, I’d actually vote for Grant Hill being hurt.  Clearly the others are worthy, but not getting to see what Hill and T-Mac could do together was disheartening for all basketball fans.  We got to see the other two.  We never got to see Hill team up in his prime with T-Mac.

One of the best players in the world taken down in the prime of his career right when he was on the verge of something great, perhaps the best wing-duo since Jordan and Pippen.  We’ll never know.  Magic fans and all basketball fans have to live with that.

Players get hurt all the time.  Very few approach the disastrous stage that Hill went through.  What pains the most is seeing a player who could have become an all-time great lose the prime years of his career.  His best years were gone.  Terrible for Hill.  Terrible for the Magic.  Terrible for basketball.

I am happy for Grant Hill that not only did he come back and play, but he did so for a long time.  Retiring at 40 is not an option for most.  Most are long gone before then.  Maybe that was the basketball gods attempting to even things up.  I only wish he had those prime years in Orlando.  So do all Magic fans.