They do not need each other. They would never say that, and
perhaps they do not even see it that way. But it is true, and that
is the beauty of their relationship. The rookie could survive
without the veteran's guidance, because the young man is wise
beyond his years. He is the son of Yale and Wellesley graduates
who raised him to take his place among the best and the brightest.
College presidents and U.S. senators have been among his
counselors, and now he has legions of advisers, including a
management company, an attorney, even an executive assistant who
is a Harvard graduate. The rookie does not need a mentor.
The veteran does not need a protege. He has two championship rings
and the kind of universal respect from fans, reporters and his
fellow players that athletes rarely command anymore. He could have
used his elder-statesman status like a recliner and simply relaxed
in it, picking up his paycheck from his $13.5 million, four-year
contract. Or he could have been like so many other veterans on
mediocre teams and pushed for a trade to a contender. He did not
need to take such an active role in the education of this or any
But here they are, drawing from each other and giving something in
return. Two lesser men might have spun off into their own orbits,
but not this pair, rookie forward Grant Hill and veteran guard Joe
Dumars of the Detroit Pistons. Their bond is based not on need but
on mutual appreciation.
``Each guy knows what he has in the other,'' says Billy McKinney,
Piston vice president of basketball operations. ``Grant sees that
Joe is this incredible source of wisdom and support, and Joe sees
that Grant is a young player with his head on straight, a player
on whom he can have a positive effect. I think Joe looks at Grant
and sees himself as a young player, and Grant looks at Joe and
sees the kind of player he wants to be.''
This is the way it is supposed to work, but the way it too rarely
does in today's NBA. There is a generation gap in the league, with
veterans on one side of the chasm shouting that the attitudes of
certain young players have been warped by early, easy money, and
the new generation screaming back that many of the older players
are jealous and out-of-touch. Both groups could look at the bond
between Hill and Dumars and learn how to bridge that gap.
``When you're a rookie, and you're lucky enough for Joe Dumars to
take an interest in you, you're not too smart if you don't take
advantage of it,'' Hill says.
``With all Grant has going for himself, he didn't have to listen
to me,'' Dumars says. ``But he does. He doesn't just hear, he
It was a March morning after Detroit's 107-97 loss to the New York
Knicks. At that point the Pistons were still struggling to stay in
the race for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff
berth (they were eventually eliminated, and through Sunday their
record was 27-51). Hill, who had scored 26 points, was sitting
beside Dumars in the training room with an ice bag on his ribs,
the result of a meeting with Knick strongman forward Charles
Oakley. ``I was going down the lane, and I got the foul, but he
got me with a little hip just after the whistle,'' he told Dumars.
``You have to watch that,'' replied Dumars, who had scored 13.
``Guys hear that whistle and they know they have a free shot.
Patrick [Ewing] almost did the same kind of thing to me last
night, but I saw it coming. When you hear that whistle, that's
when you have to protect yourself the most.''
It is in these quiet moments that the nature of the relationship
between Hill and Dumars is most evident. Their relationship is
like the players themselves -- subtle and understated. ``It's not
based on anything that 21,000 people in the stands are going to
see,'' says Dumars. ``It's just a word or two here or there. You
don't need a sledgehammer with Grant, just a chisel.''
Hill, who through Sunday was averaging 19.6 points, 4.9 assists
and 6.2 rebounds per game, may or may not win the Rookie of the
Year award. The race appears to be the closest in years (chart,
page 45). But Hill, who will get this writer's vote for the honor,
has been the rookie of the year in a larger sense. The 22-year-old
former All-America from Duke has left his mark on this season,
both by his spectacular play and by serving as a counterpoint to
the spoiled behavior of some of the league's other young players.
At the same time he has gracefully borne the burden of being
perceived as Mr. Virtue.
``If I've handled it well, Joe is a big part of the reason why,''
Hill says. ``One of the things he tells me from time to time is
that it's O.K. to be seen as the good guy. The image isn't
something I created, and it's not something I feel I have to live
up to. I know that, but sometimes I need to be reminded of it.''
Dumars set the tone last June even before the draft, in which the
Pistons would select Hill with the third overall pick. McKinney
and Piston coach Don Chaney had invited Hill; his father, Calvin;
and his attorney, Lon Babby, to a get-acquainted dinner. ``Joe
didn't need to be there,'' Hill says. ``That wasn't part of his
job description, to wine and dine the draft choice.'' But there
was Dumars, becoming fast friends with Calvin, the former All-Ivy
running back at Yale and All-Pro running back with the Dallas
Cowboys. Dumars listened intently to Calvin's old football
stories. ``That may not sound like much,'' says the younger Hill,
``but my dad can take 20 minutes to tell a five-minute story. I
knew that by being there Joe was saying he wanted me in Detroit,
and at that moment I knew I wanted to be in Detroit.'' (Indeed,
after a relatively smooth negotiation, he signed an eight-year,
$45 million contract.)
Dumars wanted Hill as a teammate because Hill is the kind of
dignified player some fear will become extinct when Dumars and his
contemporaries leave the game. ``Some of the younger guys in this
league, I have a hard time relating to,'' Dumars says. ``That's
not to say that their style is wrong. It's just foreign to me. I
can't see myself in black sneakers with no socks and shorts
hanging halfway down my butt. And I don't think Grant sees himself
that way either.''
In Hill, Dumars sees a player he can help the same way ex- Piston
forward Adrian Dantley helped him when Dumars came into the league
in 1985 as a No. 1 draft pick out of McNeese State. ``I was this
quiet guy from Louisiana, and AD showed me the ropes and reassured
me, told me that I didn't have to change my personality to get
along in the NBA,'' Dumars recalls. ``That's what I try to tell
Sometimes when he is talking about the nurturing of Hill, Dumars
sounds like a coach, but that is probably as close as he will ever
get to becoming one. ``I have no desire to scream at referees or
to try to get guys to slide on defense,'' he says. Instead Dumars,
a perennial All-Star who through Sunday was averaging a solid 18.1
points a game, is building his business interests for his
retirement, which will probably come after his contract expires
following the 1996-97 season. In February he opened Joe Dumars
Fieldhouse, a $2.4 million, 70,000-square-foot facility outside
Detroit in Shelby Township that includes basketball and volleyball
courts, an in-line hockey rink, a restaurant and sports bar, and
weightlifting and cardiovascular-workout equipment. The
Fieldhouse, which has already become one of the popular Piston
hangouts, is Dumars's future, but first he wants to lay the
foundation for the Pistons' future, with Hill as the cornerstone.
From the start he took responsibility for Hill's transition to the
NBA, requesting that Hill's locker be placed next to his. ``Grant
has a lot of people in his life to give him words of support, but
sometimes it helps when the support is coming from the guy at the
next locker,'' says Dumars. Says Hill, ``If there's something he
really thinks I ought to hear, he'll tell me, but a lot of the
time he waits for me to turn to him.''
Hill has turned to him often, sometimes in tense moments. Last
month the Pistons were trailing the Boston Celtics by one point
with six seconds left in the game, and during a timeout Chaney set
up a play for Hill to take the last shot. As he took the court,
Hill turned to Dumars with a look that said, ``Any advice?''
Dumars knew that when Hill goes one-on-one, he likes to hold the
ball for a second or two, sizing up his defender before he makes
his move. He also knew from experience what the Celtics were
likely to do in this situation. ``They're going to send a guy to
double-team you as soon as you touch the ball,'' he told Hill.
``Make your move right away. Don't wait.''
Hill took the advice and made his move to the basket before the
second defender arrived for the double team. He missed the shot,
but Dumars nodded his head in satisfaction anyway. ``He'll make
the shot a lot more times than he misses it,'' he said. ``And no
one will ever have to tell him again how to play it in that
Other situations are not so easily handled. Hill, of course, has
been cast as a cross between Michael Jordan and Mother Teresa.
GQ featured him on the cover, accompanied by the words CAN GRANT
HILL SAVE SPORTS? Inside, the headline answered the question,
describing him simply as THE SAVIOR. The benefit of this
avalanche of positive press is that Hill has become one of
sports' most popular pitchmen, selling everything from trucks
(GMC) to sneakers (Fila) to soft drinks (Sprite); his
endorsement contracts are worth an estimated $5 million a year.
The downside is that Hill feels pressured to live up to an
impossibly perfect image.
``I don't want to be any kind of savior,'' Hill says. ``I'm 22
years old, and I'm going to mess up sometimes. I just don't want
that to be a major shock to people.''
But it would be a shock if he made a serious misstep, because so
far his instincts have been so good. When Hill gave a speech about
the importance of education at a Detroit area high school in
March, Fila wanted to unveil the new Grant Hill sneaker at the
same time. Hill nixed the idea, deciding it was inappropriate to
say simultaneously, ``Stay in school'' and ``Buy my sneaker.''
But other incidents related to his celebrity are beyond his
control. In March a teenager was hospitalized after being shot in
the head by another teenager when he refused to give up his
sneakers -- Grant Hill sneakers. (At press time the youth remained
in serious condition at a Detroit hospital.) Once again Hill said
precisely the right thing. ``You do feel guilty to a certain
degree,'' he said, ``but really, we're talking about a societal
problem. The problem isn't the value the kids put on the
sneakers, it's the lack of value some of them put on human life.''
Dumars watches the rookie handle himself in such moments and sees
not just the student in Hill, but also the makings of a teacher.
``There's probably an eighth-grader out there,'' he says, ``who is
going to be very lucky to break into the NBA as a rookie on a team
with Grant Hill.'' And whatever wisdom Hill imparts to that young
man will have a touch of Joe Dumars in it.
Class of '95
Early on Grant Hill was the leading candidate in the race for
Rookie of the Year. But with election day falling this week --
media members must cast their votes by Friday, April 21 -- the
contest has become a three-way battle between Hill, Milwaukee Buck
forward Glenn Robinson (right, with Hill) and Dallas Maverick
guard Jason Kidd, with Sacramento King forward Brian Grant and
Washington Bullet forward Juwan Howard close behind. The race has
taken on the feel of a Heisman Trophy campaign, with teams sending
voters such promotional items as Jason Kidd masks and VOTE JUWAN
But no matter who wins, this year's rookie class will be
remembered as one of the deepest ever, comparable to the 1992
group that included LaPhonso Ellis, Tom Gugliotta, Robert Horry,
Jimmy Jackson, Christian Laettner, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille
O'Neal, Latrell Sprewell and Clarence Weatherspoon. Here's a look
at this year's top candidates, by overall draft order (statistics
through April 16).
ROOKIE KEY STATS PLUS MINUS MOST NOTABLE MOMENT
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