George Hill...A Rising Force of Goodwill
(Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)
You may have seen the first two on SportsCenter. You certainly didn't see the third. ESPN didn't know when Hill gave 15-year-old Lane Chandler a day to remember. Almost no one else knew either until the gift-splurging facts spread by word of mouth.
George did what?
Hill and Chandler met through a mutual friend after a game in October. Hill handed the kid his cell phone number and Chandler blinked in disbelief. Then Hill asked for the kid's number and said, "I'll call you."
Charlotte Chandler didn't believe an NBA player would phone her son. But then Hill called and player and teen connected in a way Charlotte never imagined. At a time when doctors were treating a rare form of cancer in Lane's right leg, Hill became a friend. The kind who calls and asks, "How are you doin'?" The kind who invites you and two buddies to meet the team in the locker room. The kind who says, "Call if you need anything," and means it.
The kindness sometimes renders the family speechless. "It chokes me up," says Lane's father Steve.
Away from the cheering crowds, Hill is quietly becoming one of the most kid-friendly, charitable Spurs. Once, he used Twitter to invite fans to a treasure hunt at Best Buy. The object: Find Spurs tickets hidden in microwaves, dishwashers, dryers and other appliances.
Another time, he treated five teenagers from the Boys and Girls Clubs to a shopping spree at an electronics store. Some left with digital cameras. Others bought gifts for siblings.
Hill has done more. Lots more. But no one has logged the spontaneous, post-game visits with children, the outreaches at inner city playgrounds, the unannounced trips to local gyms. Hill almost never makes an appearance empty-handed. In less than two full seasons in San Antonio, he's given away hundreds of Spurs tickets.
"It's a chance for children to experience things I didn't get to experience as a child," he says.
To understand what fuels his heart, you have to go back to his neighborhood, to a pickup basketball game in a church gym full of mostly black kids and one overweight white boy. Jeremiah Chlumsky was the Anglo who didn't fit in, a 10-year-old who got pushed and elbowed and picked on. During one trip down the court, Chlumsky got knocked to the floor. Then he got stepped on. And before you knew it, bullies started coming at him from every direction.
Until a 12-year-old with game and character interceded. "Leave him alone," Hill demanded, and everyone backed off. Hill dropped to one knee and began tying the laces on Chlumsky's shoe. Then Hill showed the boy how to tie a double knot.
The gesture created a ripple of kindness a community of blight. The bullies befriended Chlumsky and the boy's parents, Joseph and Rebecca, invited Hill into their home. At first for dinner, then for sleepovers and family vacations. Soon, Hill had his own room and became the brother Jeremiah never had.
"I became like a brother to a lot of those kids," Jeremiah says. "George's actions brought me acceptance into an arena where I hadn't been accepted.. My father saw that, reached out to George and it changed all of our lives."
The only child of a single mother, Hill remembers gangs, drugs and fatal shootings in the 'hood. Some friends wound up dead. Others wound up in prison. Hill? Just down the street, he found a sanctuary, a father figure and youth basketball coach in Jeremiah's father, Joseph.
"He gave me a place to come and stay out of trouble.," Hill says. "He opened my eyes to the possibility that I could make it and that I could give back to people."
George Hill's game is on the rise. He's pickpocketing Kobe, blowing by Derrick Rose and prompting Coach Gregg Popovich to call him, "The most improved player in the league."
From his bed in Indianapolis, Joseph Chlumsky, blind and in failing health, listens to Hill's games on television. The little boy who befriended his son has become more than an NBA force. He's become an inspiration.
Lane Chandler knows. When Lane was down in his battle against cancer, Hill offered a hand. Lane's parents felt the touch. Lane's friends reaped the benefits. Free seats on the AT&T Center floor. A visit with players in the locker room. Moments they'll cherish forever. Says Lane, a freshman at Boerne Champion High who expects to recover: "George is a great guy, a great friend and a real genuine person."
It all began with a boy and pair of untied shoes. The ripple of goodwill that began in Indianapolis has reached San Antonio in waves.