GRANT HILL REACHES 1,000 CAREER GAMES

Grant Hill

HOUSTON – There were plenty of moments in Grant Hill’s storied career where he felt like any game could have been his last.

But through multiple ankle surgeries and years of doubts from pundits and in his own mind about whether or not his playing days would be forever lost, Hill persevered. On Tuesday when he checked in with 1:05 left in the first quarter at Toyota Center, Hill, more than 18 years after his professional basketball journey began, became the 20th active player to appear in 1,000 NBA games.

“There were periods of time 10 years ago, where I didn’t know if I would play again, let alone play a thousand games,” Hill said, seated in front of his locker with the game ball in his lap.

“It’s not a major accomplishment in the grand scheme of things, but to me, I think with all that I’ve been through things like that, things like a few years ago playing all 82 games, are personally things I’m proud of.”

Hill joins teammate Chauncey Billups as active players to reach 1,000 games as members of the Clippers (Billups did so in February 2012). He also joins Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd and Paul Pierce as the fifth active player with at least 1,000 games, 15,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists. Only 18 players in NBA history have reached those career statistical plateaus.

“Grant’s had a phenomenal career,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He’s a complete pro. He’s had to battle some injuries throughout, especially years back. But he’s come back and he still has a passion to play. I’ve said it from day one, you’d be hard pressed to find anybody as professional as Grant Hill. I’m just happy he’s on our team.”

Hill made his Clippers debut three days ago, or 18 years and two months after his NBA debut Nov. 4, 1994 with the Detroit Pistons, when he played 38 minutes and notched his first of 180 career double-doubles (25 points and 10 rebounds).

Seven years and 435 games later, though, Hill was beset by season-ending ankle surgery just months after signing a multi-year contract with the Orlando Magic. It was the same ankle that he fractured in his final season with the Pistons and kept him out of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

He went on to miss 275 games over the next five seasons, mostly due to recurring problems with his surgically repaired left ankle. But Hill worked his way back. He was healthy for his final season in Orlando and played five almost injury-free seasons in Phoenix, including appearing in all 82 games in 2008-09.

“I think the most gratifying thing is, I think I find joy in things that I didn’t find joy in maybe earlier in my career,” Hill said. “I think the relationships. I think when you’re younger and probably a little bit more selfish, you know, the world revolves around you and you think about your legacy and your place, all-star games and all that other stuff. Now, it’s just knowing what I’ve been through and being able to still play and the relationships and bonds that you form with your teammates and the lessons that you learn, all those little things are more significant to me than anything I did prior to my injuries.”

Hill’s march to 1,000 games was delayed by a bone bruise in his right knee. After playing in two exhibition games with the Clippers in China, he experienced discomfort in the knee and was shut down for the first 36 regular-season games. After making his team debut at home on Jan. 12, he notched game 999 and 1,000 on the road where he combined for 12 points, six assists and four rebounds in 33 minutes against the Grizzlies and Rockets.

Del Negro said it is just a matter of getting the veteran Hill, who turned 40 in October, acclimated. 

“We’re looking forward to kind of getting him back in game condition,” Del Negro said prior to the Rockets game. “I think he’s going to give us another dimension to our team and that’s going to be exciting.”

As for the milestone, Hill hopes to add a few more to it before he calls it a career. “It took me 20 years to get it,” Hill said. “But I finally got there. Hopefully, there are a few more that I can add on to the final tally.”