The Indiana Pacers are in town today, and like it or not, wherever they go this season, they'll carry the stigma of everything that is wrong with the NBA...
The Indiana Pacers are in town today, and like it or not, wherever they go this season, they’ll carry the stigma of everything that is wrong with the NBA.
In the past week, a franchise that once was the model of the league for its shrewd front-office dealings and its state-of-the-art arena has become the worst example of violence and mayhem spun out of control.
This once-proud franchise generated the most disturbing video clip we have ever seen.
They’ve been the center of heated debates across the country on how to repair the NBA’s damaged relationship with its ticket-buying fan base, and they caused many to wonder once again if the NBA is too black or too young or too rich for its own good.
Because of knuckleheads like Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, we’ve forgotten some of the truly wonderful and inspirational stories in the league.
But here’s a headline for you: “Man rescues NBA.”
That man in question is Grant Hill.
He’s the quiet one with the just-happy-to-be-here smile painted on his face. He’s the one, you might remember, that was poised to be the next Michael Jordan or the next Oscar Robertson, before an ankle injury robbed him of greatness.
Grant Hill. Remember him?
The kid who led Duke to back-to-back national championships in 1991-92. The third pick in the 1994 draft. The good son of a former NFL player, Calvin, and Janet, the Washington consultant. The good-looking husband of R&B artist Tamia.
Grant Hill. Sound familiar?
The Olympic gold medalist. The classical pianist in basketball shoes. The one who built houses for Habitat for Humanity and launched an exhibit of African-American art with pieces from his collection.
“I always say that there are a lot of good people and a lot of good stories. Unfortunately, in our society, negativity sells,” Hill said the other day after a brief morning workout in Atlanta. “That’s what’s exciting, and that’s what people want to see.
“But there’s a lot of feel-good stories just even on our team. I get a lot of attention, but Pat Garrity, he had four surgeries in nine months. The fact that he’s out here playing, healthy and contributing, gets lost. We overlook those stories.”
At a time when one of its arenas has become a crime scene, the NBA needs Hill more than ever.
It needs men of his character and conviction. It needs to remind those who would condemn it that this league can represent the best in athletics.
“He’s one of the remarkable stories that never gets told,” commissioner David Stern said days before the Detroit-Indiana brawl. “I’m a Grant Hill fan.”
We should all be Grant Hill fans.
Last week he was voted the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Through 11 games, the Magic forward was his team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 20.1 points.
Ironically, with Artest suspended for the season, Hill will likely play in his seventh All-Star game.
Now if that’s not poetic justice, then I don’t know what is.
And here’s the crazy thing: I wanted Hill to go away a few years ago.
I asked him shortly after one of his seven ankle surgeries if he were being selfish in pursuing what seemed like an impossible dream. Privately, I thought that he was sticking around for the money and trying to satisfy his ego, like so many aging athletes.
I thought the Magic should have left him unprotected for the expansion draft in hopes that Charlotte would pay the final three years of the $92 million contract they gave him.
Hill had always been a gem away from the court, but since joining the Magic in 2000 he’d played in just 47 games before this season.
Even as I write this, I’m fearful that his injury will return.
Still, to jettison someone like Hill would have been a travesty for Orlando and the NBA. The league needed him to return to prominence in the city where all of his injury problems began.
“I think there’s more feel-good stories out there if you dig deeper,” Hill said. “I know how to get on the front page. Go do something crazy or run into the crowd. That’s kind of the way it is, but ultimately there are definitely more great people and good things being done in this league.”
In New Jersey, Richard Jefferson donated a $20,000 wheelchair to a 5-year-old girl after reading in a magazine that her old wheelchair had been destroyed during a school field trip.
In Phoenix, Steven Hunter paid for Thanksgiving meals that fed 1,500 homeless people.
And in Seattle, the Indiana Pacers are in town and they, too, are a shining example of all that is good about the NBA. Despite being undermanned and with marginal NBA talent on the active roster, they have carved out an impressive 3-1 record since the suspensions on the strength of teamwork and tenacity.
Despite all that you might have read, seen and heard over the past week, there is still much to love about this game, as long as people like Hill continue playing it.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org