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One-on-one with Grant Hill: Life after basketball

Former NBA star talks about charity, overcoming injuries and what makes for a good marriage

Former NBA player Grant Hill had some legendary moments on the court.

There was his 1996-97 season in which he led the Detroit Pistons in nearly every statistical category, including minutes played, points, field goals, free throws, assists and steals — and missed only one regular-season game. Or look at Hill’s performance during the 1997 NBA playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, when he crossed over Hawks small forward Tyrone Corbin before going in for a nasty dunk over center Dikembe Mutombo. We can reminisce about 2009, when a showdown between the Phoenix Suns and the Chicago Bulls gave us a 36-year-old Hill teaching the young bucks what an old-school dunk looks like. We’re sorry it had to be you, Joakim Noah.

We can bring it all the way back to when a baby-faced Hill honed his playmaking skills at Duke University. Hill averaged 14.9 points and 6.0 rebounds over his collegiate career and helped his team claim back-to-back NCAA championships during his freshman and sophomore years in 1991 and 1992.

While Hill grew accustomed to playing through ankle injuries that began during the 1999-2000 season, a recurring left ankle injury threatened to end his career in 2003. He missed the entire 2003-04 season with the Orlando Magic.

“I had multiple doctors tell me that I was done, and I was able to play another 10 years. … I wasn’t the same player, but I still had a lot of fun in the game and got the most out of it,” Hill said during a TNT pregame show in 2013.

“For me, as I went through my career, I was able to still figure out, find ways to add value to a team, and as I went through injuries, as I had setbacks, I got older,” Hill told The Undefeated. “I was still able to play until I was 40, I think in large part because I continued to figure out how I could be effective out there on the court throughout my 19-year journey.”

Hill, 44, spent most of his career as an integral part of the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns before announcing his retirement in 2013 after one season with the Los Angeles Clippers. An elite defender with a varied skillset, Hill decided to end his NBA career after having played 1,027 games in which he averaged 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

It’d be easy to assume that Hill has spent his retirement relaxing, enjoying family time with his wife, six-time Grammy-nominated singer Tamia, and the couple’s two daughters, Myla Grace and Lael Rose. But life hasn’t slowed down for the seven-time All-Star.

Letting go of his tear-aways and sneakers, Hill has stepped up his tailored-suit game as a basketball analyst for CBS Sports, Turner Sports and NBA TV, where he’s been since 2015. He’s also a partial owner of the Atlanta Hawks and sits as vice chairman of the board.

In addition, Hill said, “There are some things that my wife and I are kind of exploring on the side of content creation, getting some exposure on television, but also understanding how the business of television works and how we can maximize our creativity together.

“Obviously I am building a business platform, and we’re striving to do some amazing things with our private equity business enterprise. That’s been fun, engaging, very challenging but also rewarding.”

And those are only a few of the many hats Hill wears.

Three years ago, Hill became a panelist for the Allstate National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Good Works team. As a member of the team this year, Hill, along with other players, coaches and members of the media, reviewed the profiles of 181 student-athlete nominees who are serving their communities. The 10 finalists will be honored on court during the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Phoenix.

Hill appreciates the selflessness displayed by students catering to the communities around them. Hill credits the teachings of Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski for instilling a sense of purpose and leadership that remains with him today.

“I think as an athlete or, as I like to say, ‘The Classroom of K,’ sports I think teaches you discipline, it teaches you teamwork, collective responsibility, it teaches you how to handle success, how to handle failure,” Hill said. “There’s so many values and principles that one can take from sports, from team sports, and apply to life.”

As a student-athlete at Duke, what were some of the things you learned that not only prepared you to be a leader in your professional career, but for life in general?

As a student … you learn how to think. School teaches you how to challenge yourself into thinking outside of the box, it teaches you how to problem-solve and it teaches you how to endure. College was not easy, but I think those [are] qualities that you take with you and apply to life as you move on.

What’s changed about the game since you retired?

I think the game has evolved, and I’m not that far removed from it, but I think it’s even more pronounced now. I think there’s more of an emphasis on the perimeter. I think you see more guys shooting the long ball and playing from the perimeter.

What do you see less of?

There’s less of an emphasis on playing post-up, big guys having the ball down low, and that’s kind of the trend. That’s where the game is going. The needle has been moved some since I retired three years ago, and that’s OK. The game will continue to grow and continue to evolve and continue to change in a lot of ways, but the emphasis on shooting from the perimeter and the skillset and talent of players being able to shoot the ball from outside has played a large role with the change of the game over the last few years.

Which current player reminds you most of yourself?

Is it arrogant of me to pick the best player in the game? I look at a guy like LeBron [James] and I think, you know, obviously he’s bigger than me and probably more athletic than I was, but my Detroit years, handling the ball, being like a point guard, a facilitator, I do see some similarities of at least the approach to the game that we had when I was in Detroit.

What’s the best piece of advice you received from another basketball player?

I’ve had a lot of advice along the way. There’s a lot of people that help you. Early on, Joe Dumars, when I played in Detroit, pretty much emphasized to me that the key to having longevity is to continue to grow and get better as a player. Watching him as an All-Star, as an experienced veteran, continue to work on his craft really left an impact.

What are some of the habits from your playing days that are still with you?

One of the things that’s really fun but also challenging, believe it or not, for 20 years as an athlete you play at night, and I like to say that during the season you’re nocturnal. You really learn to survive on afternoon naps.

After practice I’d come home, take a nap for an hour before the kids came home from school, or on a game day I’d come home after practice, have lunch. … [My] body’s accustomed to going to sleep after lunch. When I have a meeting after lunch … I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m falling asleep.’ Sometimes I’ll get up and go to the bathroom, sometimes I’m pinching myself, like pinching my leg. I mean, I’m trying all these different things and it’s hilarious.

Your schedule is still pretty busy, and so is Tamia’s. What’s the key to making marriage last so long?

Well, the real key is that my wife listens to everything that I say. Nah, I’m joking. I guess to the folks on the outside looking in, considering the worlds we kind of work in or live in, it seems like we got it right or we are doing great or whatever the case may be. Family is a priority. Communication. You know we have a very normal life, but we try to make it normal. Our life really at this point in time revolves around our kids. But when it’s a priority, you work at it, you know, and relationships, they require effort and communication.

We will be married 18 years this summer. We’re best friends and we have a very cool relationship, so I am very fortunate I married up!

What’s next? What are some of the things you’re hoping to do in the near future?

I think one of the great things in life is you always want to try new things. Whether they are business-related, hobby-related, I think it takes you, stretches you out of your comfort zone, and that’s where the real growth opportunity occurs.

Our children as they grow and have different needs, trying to balance and juggle all that, which is sort of a never-ending challenge. And then trying new things, you know, and traveling. Who knows where life will take us? I think when you are open to new things, and open to meeting new people, opportunities that maybe weren’t even on your radar will present themselves. Both business, but also both from a hobby standpoint, so on and so forth.

I want to learn a new language. I want to learn a new instrument — I play the piano, but I’d like to learn the guitar. I don’t know how that will work because my fingers are so big, but just step outside of my comfort zone. And I feel like when I do that, when I challenge myself, that’s when I’ll have fulfilling growth opportunity ultimately.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.