Beard: Grant Hill's entry into Hall of Fame well deserved

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Grant Hill, in the middle, joins Charles "Lefty" Driesell, left; and Steve Nash during a news conference Thursday at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Consider a wiry and athletic 6-foot-8 wing, with guard-like dribbling ability and eye-popping versatility to play anywhere along the perimeter. Add an ebullient personality and a squeaky-clean demeanor and an off-the-charts basketball intelligence.

In today’s NBA, that’s any coach’s and general manager’s dream, a likely No. 1 pick and franchise player.

In 1994, that was Grant Hill.

Hill fell to the Pistons, who had the No. 3 pick in that draft and selected Hill, who was selected behind Glenn Robinson Jr. and Jason Kidd and embarked on a roller-coaster career, with the best six of his 19 NBA seasons spent with the Pistons.

Hill enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night, headlining the Class of 2018, which includes Kidd, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Maurice Cheeks, a former Pistons coach.

Some might question Hill’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame because that’s just what happens with second-guessing these days. Hill never won a championship and ankle injuries short-circuited his career from being at the NBA pinnacle in his Pistons days to being a shell of himself by the time he finished his career with the Clippers in 2013.

Hill belongs there, not just by the numbers, but for everything he did: seven All-Star selections, five times All-NBA and the co-rookie of the year with Kidd.

For short spurts, he was as feared as Michael Jordan, as talented as Kobe Bryant and as versatile as any wing the game has ever seen. Still, Hill wasn’t sure he’d get the call to the Hall of Fame when the time came, because of his checkered injury history.

“It did make me wonder. I figured I would get in, but I wasn’t entirely sure I’d get in on the first ballot,” Hill said on ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski podcast last month. “It wasn’t like (Allen Iverson) or (Shaquille O’Neal), these guys who say they were surprised, but we all knew they were going.

“I was a little unsure.”

Grant Hill in his final season with the Pistons in 1999-2000.

Hill, 45, continually had the comparisons to Jordan as the heir apparent to ascend to the mantle that Jordan left after his retirement. It wasn’t a fair comparison, but Hill shouldn’t have been judged in the same lens.

He wasn’t the dominant finisher that Jordan was, but Hill had the face and demeanor to carry the title. 

“There was a void there and (Jordan) came back and was dominant. That label stuck with me and I never was comfortable with it and thought it was foolish,” Hill said. “The guy I watched was Magic (Johnson) and that was the player who I tried to emulate. Obviously, I didn’t have the flair, but his ability to have an effect on the game without even sometimes scoring.”

Even still, Hill’s star started to fade when he went to the Orlando Magic, signaling the beginning pieces of the “Goin’ to Work” era for the Pistons. Though he was able to move on, many Pistons fans never got over Hill’s departure.

That doubt is what muddies the waters on Hill's legacy. Pistons fans never seemed to connect with him because of his clean-cut nature, in the aftermath of the Bad Boys era. The unfair Jordan comparisons never gave Hill a chance to create his own mold as a freakishly versatile phenomenon. 

The shame is the injury cloud that seemed to stay over Hill’s career. He had better health — missing just three games total from 2008-11 with the Phoenix Suns — but he never got back to the heights he reached early in his career, with the Pistons.

That burden weighed on him.  

“My last year in Detroit, I really started to figure it out. The game slowed down, I added tools to my game and I felt like I had a four- or five-year window where I could play at a real elite level entering my prime,” Hill said. “All of a sudden, you’re hurt and you’re a disappointment and you have a big contract and you feel it and sense it and it’s hard.

“Forget about the money — you can’t play. That was a dark time and a hard time. It was four years where I pretty much wasn’t playing.”

Injuries — which caused Hill to miss all of the 2003-04 season and play in just 47 games in the previous three seasons — were the downfall of his career.

But the numbers don’t lie: 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists, in Hill’s six seasons with the Pistons. Those numbers were All-Star worthy 25 years ago.

They’re Hall-of-Fame worthy today.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard