GRANT HILL AS SUPERMAN

Grant Hill as Superman

Note: The following is a personal account by Clippers.com contributor Colin Liotta comparing seven-time All-Star Grant Hill to the Man of Steel.

All season long, Clippers.com compared players to heroes from both the Avengers and the X-Men. But through it all, there was one player that was never put into either one of those categories. Not because he wasn’t talented enough, but because he may be a hero in his own right; someone who had been through the trials and tribulations of the NBA life and remained just as steadfast and driven in his final seasons as he was when he first came into the league. That player is Grant Hill, who is more than an Avenger or X-Men, but a Man of Steel.

As a kid, I grew up rooting for Hill. Both of my parents went to Duke, my Uncle Paul was a Duke basketball fanatic, and Hill’s number 33 became as recognizable to me as Superman’s infamous ‘S’ insignia. I remember watching Hill throw that 75-foot inbound pass to Christian Laettner in 1992 against Kentucky, and watching him win two titles with the Blue Devils. He was my childhood hero.

When Hill went to the Pistons in ’94, I remember that requesting my jersey number be 33 for my town’s church league basketball team. Being from Boston, it was widely assumed that 33 was my way of paying tribute to hometown legend Larry Bird, but I was quick to point out the real reason behind it. And once Hill’s rookie year got underway, I found that other kids in my league looked to follow suit.

In his first season, Hill averaged 19.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and in the process became the first Pistons rookie since Isiah Thomas to score at least 1,000 points. Even more impressive, Hill became the first rookie in any major sport to get the most votes for an All-Star game. In his second season (1995-96), Hill again led the league in All-Star voting, beating out Michael Jordan, who was making his first All-Star game appearance since retiring in 1993.

Hill looked to be as unstoppable as Superman. He’d go on to win a gold medal for Team USA in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and coincidentally in the 1996-97 season he became the first player since Bird in 1989-90 to average at least 20 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in a season. (Hill’s averages were 21.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.3 assists). To this day, that feat has yet to be duplicated.

But a rash of ankle injuries he suffered during his time with the Orlando Magic from 2000-2007 nearly ended his career. He was limited to just 47 games in his first three seasons in Orlando, and prior to the 2006 season he even contemplated retirement. But Hill battled back, rehabbing his body and getting himself back on the court. It was that determination and will to compete that made him the NBA’s true version of Superman.

For me, labeling someone Superman has more to do with their mental makeup than their physical abilities. Sure, other NBA players have given themselves the nickname Superman, thinking that it denotes strength and invincibility. But the truth of the matter is that Superman’s personality is what makes him a great hero. He’s humble about who he is. He doesn’t need to tell the world he’s Superman, and he definitely doesn’t need to get a tattoo on his arm to remind everyone that that’s what they should call him. Superman knows that there will always be evil and unforeseen circumstances in his future, but he also knows that if he stays true to himself he’ll ultimately come out on top. I feel that Grant Hill has embodied this ideal over the course of his career.

After the injuries he suffered in Orlando, it would’ve been easy, and understandable, for Hill to seek an early retirement. But he chose to rehab and return to the game he loved. He chose to put his body through grueling hours of rehabilitation just for a chance to take the court again. He never asked for pity and never sought a shortcut. His hard work eventually paid off. After seven injury-plagued years with Orlando, Hill moved onto Phoenix where he spent five productive years with the Suns, and in three of those seasons he played 80 or more games. His body may not have been what it once was, but he’d survived his ordeal in Orlando and proven to everyone that he wasn’t one to give in when things got tough.

And although Hill signed a two-year contract with the Clippers in the offseason, he himself has acknowledged that this season would likely be his last. It seems only fitting that his career will end around the same time that Superman returns to the big screen in Man of Steel. Hill’s hard work and dedication to the game he loves has been inspirational, and despite whatever happens in the postseason, Hill’s already proven he’s a champion in his own right. He’s proven that he is a true Man of Steel.

Colin J. Liotta is the co-founder of the website The Sports Hero along with his wife, Bushra, and acts as the Editor-in-Chief. The website combines sports and comics into one place for fans of both genres. See more of Colin's work at www.thesportshero.com