Grant Hill played in the NBA from 1994-2013. He was Rookie of the Year, a seven-time All-Star and one of the best players in the league. But he also battled ankle injuries throughout his career. In fact, Hill played in just 47 games over three years from 2000-03 and in just 21 games in 2005-06.
Resting players has become a major topic of discussion in the NBA, but in hindsight, would Hill have benefitted from more rest?
“Yeah, I think so,” Hill said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “For me, it’s complicated. When I first got hurt in Detroit, we never really found out what was wrong. And so, there was more of an attitude back then – and even as I was going through my injury ordeal – (of) just tape it up, here’s some medication, go out and play. We never really managed my injury correctly. I say ‘we’ because I’m partly responsible, too. It is my body. I could have said, ‘No, I don’t want to play.’ It was a badge of honor almost, to play through pain, play all the games. That’s why you see a lot of old guys like myself who talk down and don’t like this idea of rest. I do believe that if I had somebody – an organization, a medical staff – that could protect me from myself and also be pretty honest and transparent about what was going on, I think we could have avoided a lot of these injuries.
“Look, I went through that stretch of four or five years where I couldn’t stay healthy, but then I came back and I became an Iron Man,” Hill continued. “I didn’t get hurt at all. I was playing and I didn’t miss games. In four years, I missed like three games and sort of re-invented myself. So the ankle just never really healed, and we never really gave it time to heal. There was always a rush to get back, a rush to get back. Once it healed, there was no problems.”
Hill had his last ankle surgery in 2003.
“I played almost 10 years after my last surgery,” he said. “I say all that to say the mindset now is you got a lot of money invested in players, it’s a long season, it’s a grind of a season, and as owner – I’m vice chairman of the Atlanta Hawks – I don’t have an issue with it. I don’t have a problem with it if it’s done the right way (and) as an organization and as players you take the right approach. Now the fans sometimes miss out. There’s no quick fix for that. If you want to see LeBron James or if you want to see whoever and they don’t play that game, that’s tough. So maybe there’s a way we can fix it or we can be more transparent. But look, it’s a grueling season.”
Looking at the college game, meanwhile, Hill anticipates an exciting Final Four weekend. No. 1 Gonzaga (36-1) versus No. 7 South Carolina (26-10), especially, should be an interesting matchup of contrasting styles.
“They have probably the most underrated All-American in college basketball,” Hill said of the Gamecocks, referring to Sindarius Thornwell. “He may not be underrated anymore, but Sindarius Thornwell and how he has played – he has been sensational. Elite performance, confident – he was Frank Martin’s first big-time recruit. He believed in him, and he’s come there. He’s SEC Player of the Year, and people don’t even really know about him. I do think Gonzaga, the fact that they’ve played West Virginia in the Sweet 16 and they won that game, they got familiar with that type of basketball: physical, tough-minded, pressure defense, relentless all over the floor for 40 minutes. They won that game in a close one.”
Indeed, Gonzaga held off Bob Huggins’ bunch in the Sweet 16, winning 61-58.
“I think that experience will help them,” Hill said. “They’ll be better-prepared for the pressure of (that) defense. Those are really the only two teams in all of college basketball that play that way – West Virginia and South Carolina – on the defensive end. If Gonzaga can limit their turnovers, if they can go inside to (Przemek) Karnowski – who’s big, strong, skilled, a great passer – and just make outside shots, (they’ll have a good chance). It’s going to be a good one. I look forward to it. It’s all about match-ups: who’s got it going, who stays out of foul trouble, all those different adjustments in games. Although they may not be familiar Final Four teams, I do think they’re going to put together a pretty good game that’s entertaining to the fans.”
And despite reaching the Final Four for the first time in program history, the Zags, to be clear, still have pressure.
“They do,” Hill said. “They do. There is that pressure. People feel like this is needed to validate Mark Few and to validate his program. He’s been remarkably consistent with how great and successful that program has been. They just can’t get over that hump. It’s not like they’re playing Kansas or playing a blue-blood. They’re not playing North Carolina. They’re playing South Carolina, a Cinderella. They are favored to win. But look, if you get to the Final Four, everybody’s under pressure. You get this far, you know how hard it is to get there – there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get back. You want to win. It’s not like playing with house money. You come here to win. I guarantee each coach is putting pressure on himself, his staff, his players to go out and have their best performance for two nights here during the Final Four weekend.”