As the Eastern Conference All-Stars were introduced last night, most of the guys seemed to have a little something-something planned. Shaq performed an electric bugaloo thing. LeBron James either shouted out Nets owner Jay-Z by throwing up the symbol for Roc-a-Fella records or held up a goofy "A" (for Akron, says LeBron).
But Grant Hill, he just looked happy to be there. He took his time going down the steps -- something that's normal for him now in everyday life, not just during the All-Star Game -- with a sublime grin on his face. Even though it was Hill's 7th All-Star Game (including one he missed due to injury in 2001), he almost looked as though he couldn't believe his luck to be there.
After all, one year ago at this time, Grant was hobbling around. In fact, he spent the better part of the last four years on crutches. "I have every imaginable crutch," Grant told me recently, when I spoke to him for a story in the current issue of SLAM magazine. "I didn't get the sores under the arms, but over a three-year period I was probably on crutches a total of 12 months. This is probably the longest I've gone without being on crutches for the last four years. I got off my crutches last in June or July of '03."
For the last four NBA seasons, while his name was becoming a punchline to sportswriters, Hill was out there waking up early, getting in the pool, getting in the gym.
"It was definitely not easy. And people look at you and question you, wondering, 'Why are you still doing this? Why don't you give it up?' I won't say that it bothered me, but I knew people were thinking that deep down inside. People were looking at me like, 'Man, why are you still trying to play?' But I honestly believed that I could get back."
While his career was on hold, his personal life flourished. Hill married pop star Tamia and they had a daughter, Myla, now three years old. When Grant and I talked, he was enjoying a day off in Orlando, and he and Myla were in the car. Occasionally Myla would start acting her age, and it was cute to hear Hill turn and gently discipline her. ("OK, Myla, we're turning around, we're turning around and we're going to go see Mommy right now, OK? OK?")
"There's never a good time to go through what I went through," he said. "But being married and moving to a new city and really not knowing people, you kind of lean and rely on each other even more. In Detroit I knew people and there was kind of a comfort zone. I had a life there and had relationship with neighbors and people prior to even knowing my wife. Together, we moved to a new city and we went through this mini-hell the last four years, we had to lean and rely on each other a little more."