So, as it turns out, while many spectators in Sleep Train Arena last April 17 were wondering if the Kings would ever play another game in Sacramento, Grant Hill, one of the greatest players and most respected NBA players of his era, was sitting on the visitors bench with the Los Angeles Clippers, weeks from announcing his retirement.
Sadly, chronic ankle problems prevented him from reaching his full potential and ending his 18 seasons with an induction into the Hall of Fame. Before the injuries and the surgeries, he was a 6-foot-8 combination of grace, guile and explosiveness. He was a big cat - with terrific ballhandling skills. I'll never forget the first time I saw the former Duke standout play in person: in Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum during his freshman year.
On a team that included Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner, it was obvious that the slinky small forward, who scored, rebounded, passed and defended, already was the best player on the floor. When I caught up with Mike Krzyzewski outside the locker room afterward, I offered my first impressions - that his small forward was going to be tremendous - and asked if I was overstating Hill's abilities. Krzyzewski, whom I had gotten to know during the Dream Team Tour of 1992, smiled and shook his head.
Hill went on to win two NCAA Championships, become the No.3 NBA Draft choice of the Detroit Pistons, a co-Rookie of the Year, a seven-time All-Star, and an Olympic champion (1996). And let's not forget the inbounds baseball pass he threw that set up Laettner's turnaround jumper in the NCAA semifinals against Kentucky.
But the other part? About being one of the most-respected people in the game? He was accommodating, thoughtful, candid, witty and delightfully different. While touring with Lenny Wilkens' Olympic team in '96, Hill brought along a bowling ball and tried to entice teammates to accompany him to nearby lanes. While he has myriad interests, it would surprise me if he doesn't become a general manager or even an owner some day.