For Grant Hill, Orlando represents a lot.
It’s where he and his wife, six-time Grammy nominee Tamia, have established their home. It’s where they’ve raised their daughters Myla and Lael.
It’s also where Hill’s basketball career took a downturn.
After starring at Duke, where he won two NCAA championships, and the Detroit Pistons, where he was named an All-Star five times, Hill was limited during his tenure with the Orlando Magic (2000-07) because of multiple ankle surgeries. He played 47 games across his first four seasons with the Magic, including missing the entire 2003-04 season.
He revived his career later with the Magic before leaving Orlando for the Phoenix Suns in free agency in 2007. He retired in 2013 with the Los Angeles Clippers and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
In his memoir “Game: An Autobiography,” which was released in early June, Hill took readers through the ups and downs of his basketball career.
The Orlando Sentinel recently spoke with Hill over the phone about his book and tenure with the Magic.
The conversation has been edited and condensed:
Question: What sparked the desire to write the book?
Answer: “I never really thought I’d write a book. I used to always say, ‘Maybe one day I’ll put that in the book,” just kind of facetiously. For me, it really sparked with the [Hall of Fame] enshrinement ceremony in 2018. A moment like that, you tend to look back, reflect and appreciate. The process of doing that, I thought, ‘This could be a good time to collect my thoughts, go back, go through it and tell my story.’ I’ve had an interesting basketball journey and experienced a number of different things along the way. Giving a first-hand account and sort of a behind-the-scenes account of what I went through, of what I saw, what I experienced — the highs and the lows. It was actually a fun exercise. Overwhelming at times, but when it was all said and done, it was fun.”
Q: What about Orlando felt like the right place for you?
A: “A couple of things. One of the advantages Orlando had was I visited with them first. Because I was on crutches, it was so difficult to get around. It’s July in Orlando, it’s hot and you’re on crutches at that. I had other teams, but once I returned from Orlando those teams came to visit me. Orlando probably had a little bit of an unfair advantage. I spent two, maybe three days in Orlando. I think the [other] teams might’ve had two hours coming to my house. It was a little bit of a different experience. My take on Orlando at the time was — you see it happen more so now in recent years, but you didn’t see it a lot back then — they were a new franchise, they had Shaq, Penny, and that didn’t work out. And how quickly they kind of pivoted, cleaned house and were aggressively going after star players. The effort and desire to get back on that level. You look at a team that no one expected much from. They were .500 and just short of the playoffs. They had a lot of character. As a player, you play against teams and you can just see that they did things the right way. They competed, played hard and now you add a few pieces, and let’s see what we can do. The quick pivot the organization was taking to get back to being good was appealing. You see that now, you see teams trade players and create cap space, but you didn’t see a lot of that prior to the summer of 2000. They were very proactive in pursuing some top-tier guys.
“The moves they made in the span of 12-18 months to create the cap space and still field a competitive team was so different and so kind of ahead of its time back then.”
Q: A lot of people view your Magic tenure as tough, but what were some of the better memories in Orlando?
A: “Fans in general who follow basketball were aware of my injury and the whole ordeal. Fans here in Orlando with the Magic, not only are they aware, but they kind of had to live with it. I don’t think people understood the totality of what happened. I remembered that pretty vividly. It’s funny — I remember my injuries and Duke; a lot of the other stuff it was more difficult to recall in some cases. Those Orlando years, in ways, defined me. I’m a ‘What-if?’ my injuries and all of that. I wanted to tell and sort of give an account of what transpired. Going through that was hard, dark and difficult for everyone involved. We’ve made our home here in Orlando. We always kept our home here. The friendships [and] relationships [with the people in the organization] — you’re in it with these guys: your teammates, coaches and those who worked in the organization. Regardless of the end result, there’s always a bond that’s formed. The basketball part and availability were not what any of us had hoped for, but at the end of the day when you look back on your career — the good and bad — it’s not about the wins or results, it’s the experiences and relationships. As difficult as it was, there personally were some positives, as crazy as that seems. There was a lot of growth and maturity that occurred going through that difficult time. It wasn’t always easy.”
Q: It seemed like you were inclined to return to Magic as a free agent during the 2007 offseason because of how things went with the injuries, but it also seemed like you also felt that both parties wanted to move on. Is that accurate?
“I can’t speak on behalf of the Magic then, but there were a couple of times where [former Magic chief executive officer] Bob Vander Weide the last couple of years a buyout was mentioned or even retirement; money from insurance and how it could be mutually beneficial, possibly implying there might be something within the organization. There were sort of preliminary talks leading up to ‘07, even before we got to the last year. The [2006-07] season ended, we lost to Detroit and it was a weird time because they made a coaching change. They hired Billy Donovan, who then changed his mind and decided to stay at Florida. Then they hired Stan Van Gundy. Free agency started and I had a great conversation with Stan. I really liked Stan and I think Stan really liked me. I got confirmation with that because I work with Stan now, but all this stuff was happening. I was desired by a lot of teams and I didn’t hear anything from Orlando. I was hearing what they were doing and they paid a lot of money for Rashard Lewis. We had just bought our dream house. We were planting roots [in Orlando]. I just got a sense everybody was just wanting to turn the page. The first time I spoke to a representative, at the time was [former Magic general manager] Otis Smith, it might’ve been a week in, it was kind of like waiting to hear me say I was going to leave. I didn’t feel a certain way. You understand. You got a young team, a young core and so much disappointment around my injury that I wasn’t totally surprised. You could just kind of see it. In hindsight, it was right for them and right for me. A couple of years later, they were in the Finals. I know Otis Smith came out, I think it was a Sports Illustrated article I remember reading, and he was saying how he knew I needed to leave to allow Jameer [Nelson] and Dwight [Howard] to grow because they were going to defer to me. Not in terms of play, but the voice. They needed to be able to fly. That confirmed what I was thinking in ‘07. It makes total sense. I still have good relationships with [current Magic CEO] Alex Martins and various individuals in the office who were still there. Just couldn’t stay on the court and stay healthy.”
Q: With your toe injury at Duke or even your ankle injury with Detroit, it seemed like at the time there was more frustration with the organizations. (Hill wrote that he wore a University of North Carolina hat and told his dad he was going to transfer to UNC after his junior year in 1993.) It didn’t seem like you were upset with Orlando at the time throughout the injuries. Is that how you felt at the time?
A: “It was far more difficult going through that four-year stretch in Orlando than those other incidents. At times your anger is placed everywhere and at everyone. For me, it’s like when something traumatic happens with someone, they may suppress what’s going on to get through it. One thing I didn’t allow myself to do was to feel emotionally or mentally what was going on. Whenever those thoughts would creep in, I had to stay positive, focused and look ahead. Physically, I was able to heal and eventually get back. I never dealt with or unpacked all of that from an emotional or mental standpoint. A lot of that resurfaced through this [writing] process. I really became aware it was still there leading up to the Hall of Fame [induction]. It’s the last celebration, maybe, for your career. It should be a thing that regardless of what happens during your career, it makes it OK. Leading up to the enshrinement, I got a little bitter. Part of that bitterness was I made it into the Hall of Fame, but I didn’t see my career all the way through. It was incomplete. It was hard to grade. That left me upset. The process of the book allowed me to unpack that a little bit more. As you said, I was more matter-of-fact [writing the book], maybe that was reflective of how I got through it. I couldn’t allow myself to go to a dark place. I had to stay positive. Sports condition you to think you always have a chance. In the midst of going through that injury, I’m trying to win. I’m not acting out in defiance wearing a Carolina hat like I did. Or I’m not mad and making a decision about free agency, which ultimately was the right one at the time, but I’m not making that decision out of emotion like I did when I left Detroit. Here, I’m just trying to get through it. Part of the tone, I don’t know if it intentional or reflective of how I approached that, but I was trying to get through it.”