Bidding Grant Hill And Jason Kidd Farewell

Bidding Grant Hill And Jason Kidd Farewell

My first real-time recollection of Grant Hill came during the 1994 NCAA championship game—his final game in a Duke uniform. The Blue Devils, having won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992 before losing early in the 1993 tourney—which rival North Carolina won—lost a 76-72 matchup to Arkansas.

As a 27-year-old writing this column, it’s incredible thinking I was 8 years old when Hill played that last collegiate game and was selected third overall by the Detroit Pistons in the ensuing NBA Draft. He was taken one pick behind Cal point guard Jason Kidd, who just so happened to play on the Golden Bears squad that beat Duke in the 1993 tourney.

Both Hill and Kidd retired this past week, ending a run of nearly 20 years in the league that began with both sharing the 1995 Rookie of the Year award and, at the end of their careers, sharing the unofficial title of longevity leaders in the league. When the 2013-14 season starts up, it won’t quite be the same without these two guys in uniform.

Kidd is a point guard who really could do it all thanks to an incredible evolution over time. He entered the league and made his name as a triple-double threat, a guy who had incredible court vision, could score when he needed to and hit the boards with enough efficiency to make a sizeable impact in the back court. He ended as an outside threat—becoming the third most prolific 3-point shooter in league history thanks to years of working on his craft—and he provided veteran leadership on the 2011 Mavericks’ championship.

During his second stint in Dallas, he played 3 ½ seasons with Wolves guard J.J. Barea. He forged a bond with Barea—a younger point guard who grew up watching Kidd play—and during their time together he helped give Barea advice and confidence he’d take with him to Minnesota.

“He was big—when he got to Dallas, he took my game to another level,” Barea said. “He gave me the confidence needed. When I was playing with him at the time, he always gave me the ball. A guy I looked up to—I had his jersey when I was a little kid—and when he was telling me what to do and stuff, he brings your game to the next level.”

Kidd was an exceptional facilitator, and his leadership during the early 2000s helped him reach back-to-back NBA Finals with the New Jersey Nets—falling short against the Lakers in their third straight Shaq/Kobe championship then losing the next year to the Spurs in their second title run with Tim Duncan and David Robinson and their first with Duncan/Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. As Kidd retires, that same Duncan/Ginobili/Parker trio is looking for their fourth NBA title together—Game 2 against the Miami Heat is tonight on ABC.

Hill is a case of what could have been. He was an incredible talent in his early years, and he found stability and longevity in his final seven seasons, but what should have been the prime of his career was cut short by injuries.

According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Twitter feed, he is one of six players in NBA history to average 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game during his first six seasons, and he’s in pretty good company. The rest of that group includes LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Jerry West and Oscar Robinson.

Hill even got a cameo appearance on Home Improvement. Look it up.

The difference between Hill and the rest of those guys was staying healthy.

Hill missed just 23 games in those first six years, but over the course of the next six seasons he missed 355 games—including the entire 2003-04 campaign—due to ankle injuries that kept him from reaching his full potential in the NBA and continues to keep us wondering what could have been. He had the size, the speed and the all-around game that made him a seven-time All-Star even with injuries that changed his game over the final 12 years of his career.

To me, there are a couple things I’m taking away from this past week. One, the game is losing a duo that in so many ways have been indirectly linked throughout their careers. From that Duke/Cal matchup in the 1993 tournament through their co-Rookie of the Year honors and through their combined three Olympic Gold Medals, 10 All-Star appearances and 11 All-NBA Team selections, they’re two of the more decorated players in the NBA over the past 20 years. They did it over the exact same timeframe, were drafted 15 minutes apart and retired during the same week.

Second, a guy like Jason Kidd displayed some of the qualities Wolves fans might enjoy out of Ricky Rubio over the course of his career. Kidd was an unselfish teammate, a guy with tremendous court vision and someone who made his team better simply by being on the court. He rebounded well for a guard, and he displayed leadership through his play and his work ethic. He showed similar strengths and weaknesses to Rubio in his first seasons in the league—namely in the passing and 3-point shooting department.

In his first two seasons, Rubio averaged 7.7 assists per game and shot 31.7 percent from 3-point land. Kidd averaged 8.7 assists per game and shot 31.1 percent from 3-point range in his first two years—including 27.2 percent as a rookie. He ended up with 1,988 career 3s, behind Ray Allen and Reggie Miller, thanks to his continued work ethic and drive.

Finally, these two leave us at a time of year when optimism for the future is incredibly high. This is Draft month, when groups of young, talented athletes from all over the world are selected by NBA franchises with hopes that, 20 years down the road, they’ll have the same type of success guys like Kidd and Hill had during their careers. Who knows? In June 2032 will we be talking about two more players, drafted in this year’s class, who are as closely linked and similarly decorated as these guys?

We’ve got a lot of time to debate that and admire the talent coming out of this year’s group. In the meantime, take a moment to re-watch some Kidd and Hill highlight videos. Look back on their careers that took each of them to four different franchises and incredible heights. As NBA fans, take a moment to appreciate the memories these guys provided on the court before we move on to the next group and another season right around the corner.

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