What does Clippers forward Grant Hill have in common with John Stockton and Elgin Baylor?
First, he’s an amalgamation of the two Hall of Famers’ positions: a point guard and a small forward, someone who can run the offense and still create his own shot. Hill has epitomized the hybrid “point forward” position since he entered the league as the No. 3 overall pick for the Pistons in 1994.
But the most striking similarity is that like Stockton and Baylor before him, Hill has never won an NBA championship. Yet unlike the two long-retired players, Hill has not hung up his high-tops just yet.
Hill is one of seven veterans to join the Clippers this year. At 40, the seven-time All-Star enters his 18th season on his fourth team. The championship that has eluded him these past two decades now seems less out of reach to Hill.
“This is the deepest team I’ve been on,” he said. “A lot of the guys who also signed here have been around for years. They chose here to come and play. Honestly, I don’t know if five years ago that would have happened, but the things that the Clippers organization, Chris [Paul] and Blake [Griffin] have done, makes me want to take that next step with this team.
“I’m excited to see what we can become.”
Though he comes to Los Angeles with a long list of career accomplishments, such as ranking 78th on the NBA all-time scoring list with 17,044 career points, 79th in career assists (4,226) and 66th in career steals (1,237), Hill is more concerned with getting past his previous teams’ records.
The Pistons never made it past the first round of the playoffs in Hill’s six years in the Motor City, and similarly the Magic could not either in his next six seasons in Orlando, largely due to Hill’s career-threatening ankle injury and subsequent surgeries.
In 2010, three years after he arrived in Phoenix, Hill became the first player in NBA history to win his first playoff series after fifteen years in the league when the Suns surprisingly defeated the Trail Blazers and Spurs on their way to the Western Conference Finals. But this year with the Clippers, he’s looking for much more.
It’s not uncommon for a veteran to join a new team late in his career for a last-chance hunt for a ring. Fellow 1994 draft mate and college “Fab Five” rival from Michigan, Juwan Howard, did just that two years ago when he signed with the Miami Heat, his eighth team in 17 seasons. Howard finally ended the championship-drought to win his first with the Heat last season at the age of 39.
Though Howard played just three minutes a game in the playoffs last year, Hill is expected to be a focal player off the bench for the Clippers. He was accustomed to playing 30 minutes per night for the Suns in his five seasons with the team from 2007-2012, where he averaged 12.0 points, 4.6 boards and 2.5 assists per contest.
Despite putting up those kinds of numbers against players half his age, most people continue to say that Hill’s knees don’t have the same give anymore, and his foot speed is grandfather-like compared to the quick slashing guards in the Western Conference. Yet as the second oldest active player in the NBA, Hill doesn’t seem to hear any of it.
“When I first got to Phoenix they said: ‘Oh, he can’t run with these guys, he’s 35 years old,’” Hill said with a smile. “Then I figured out how to beat my man down the court and get layups.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball,” he added. “You get on the court and you play. I still prepare the same way I did when I was younger. I’m good—I’m ready.”
Just as the court’s measurements are still 94 by 50 feet, so has his commitment to defense remained the same since his days at two-time NCAA champion Duke, where he won the National Association of Basketball Coaches Defensive Player of the Year award in 1993.
Since then he’s pestered opponents in the NBA to no end. Just ask Chris Paul, 13 years his junior, who learned the hard way.
“It’s crazy watching Grant make all the right plays—it looks like he’s going in slow motion,” Paul said. “I’m so happy he’s on my team now because he’s been guarding me for five or six years while he was in Phoenix. Fortunately for me now somebody else will be guarding me.”
Los Angeles has its sights set on getting past the Western Conference semifinals and beyond. Hill knows building a winning franchise takes time, but the game itself is relatively easy for someone who has been through as much as he has.
“I’ve seen enough and done it all—different styles of play, walking the ball up the court, or running up and down the court. It’s still basketball. You still have to go out there and compete. You might be on a different team, but at the end of the day it’s still basketball.”