Grant Hill is a legend in every aspect of life. He’s a Basketball Hall of Famer. He has a Duke degree. He has a lifetime deal with FILA. He’s married to Tamia, has one of the cleanest hairlines, and he’s impacting the world in many ways positively. Life after basketball has seemed like a breeze for Hill and he’s not taking any moment for granted. Although life seems like it’s care-free for Hill, he still goes through the same struggles as an average black man in society.
“I think regardless of what you do or what you have,” Hill said. “Race is still unfortunately a factor at times and can be an issue.”
On the NBA’s special Martin Luther King Day slate of games, Hill we be on the broadcast team for the Memphis Grizzlies-New Orleans Pelicans showdown (2:30 pm, TNT) in Grind City. He’s participated in multiple panels surrounding this weekend the past couple years and each time he makes the trip to Memphis to call an MLK game he calls a true honor.
“To see young men of color, young men of all walks of life come together and play a game, to me basketball and the NBA really exemplify the spirit of Dr. King,” says Hill.
We caught up with Hill to discuss how the NBA is at the forefront of social issues, who his MVP is right now, and Duke phenom in Zion Williamson.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
On Sunday, you participated in the National Civil Rights Museum’s panel discussion. Can you talk about how that opportunity came about and why you decided to participate?
It’s not the first time I’ve participated. A few years ago, I got an award for the women and men around basketball who exemplify Dr. King. I was fortunate to receive the award with Lisa Leslie and Steve Smith. While we were there that weekend, we did panel discussions on race and current events. I’ve called and broadcasted this game twice for Turner so I’ve been in Memphis quite a bit the past couple years. They knew I was former recipient and would be in town, so I was asked to be a part.
Can you talk about Martin Luther King’s impact specifically on sports?
If you go far back, people of color didn’t have the same opportunities or rights even in sports. One can say sports or basketball is the ultimate meritocracy To see young men of color, young men of all walks of life come together and play a game, to me basketball and the NBA really exemplify the spirit of Dr. King. We have 25 percent of the NBA born outside of the U.S. The game is a global game and predominantly African-American but the bottom line is, if you can play regardless of what color you are, or regardless of how old you are, you are going to play. It’s a game that embraces that. The NBA is a model of diversity in terms of our players.
People often foolishly believe a star athlete or TV star that’s black isn’t affected by racial issues. How has race affected your life as a player and TV analyst?
I think regardless of what you do or what you have, race is still unfortunately a factor at times and can be an issue. We can look to the highest position with the leader of the free world in Barack Obama. As great of a president as he way, I believe there were things he unfairly endured because of his color. I think it made it even that more challenging or difficult at times for him to govern. I think we can all say, he had to experience some things that other presidents never did. I think that illustrates that it’s still there. It’s still something that is present. I think athletes are more inclined to speak out and really speak on these issues and use their platform and talk about injustices. What I love about the NBA is that they’ve embraced that. They understand that players have a voice and they should be able to speak. The League has not muted guys. If anything, they’ve embraced it. That’s just really encouraging to know that the league is aligned in agreement in terms of using our platforms to affect change.
"you can also see the Vince Carter type explosiveness in him as well. He’s almost kind of one of a kind because we haven’t seen someone like him ever." — GRANT HILL ON ZION WILLIAMSON
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has supported players and their right to speak out on world issues, as a former player and now in a TV role, what are your thoughts on the job he’s doing intersecting race and sports and allowing players to speak their mind?
Adam Silver is passionate about diversity and inclusion, he continues to push the envelope and grow in the that area. I feel like we’re like the most progressive league in all of professional sports. I think there’s a great relationship and mutual respect between Adam and the players. It makes you proud as a member of this league and a number of different capacities that we’re continuing to move the needle and do what’s right to try honor and represent the legacy of Dr. King.
Obviously the NFL has had its issues and debates when it comes to a racial injustice, what are your thoughts on the NFL’s handling of that situation including Colin Kaepernick?
I’m so invested in the NBA that I’m fully aware of the situation even though I did watch playoffs in football. I’m aware of the Kaepernick situation but I’m not fully aware on the detail. I’m so fully locked in on the NBA , I don’t have time to keep up. I think we’ve (NBA) done a good job going through all that. There’s a healthy dialogue. Players feel like their voices can be heard. I think sports can play a role in healing. When you win it could galvanize a community and keep people together. What it does, it shows we have more in common than we think. From all of that, I do think sports can play a role in bringing folks tougher.
Shifting to the action on the court, DeMarcus Cousins is back, Warriors three-peat?
One hundred percent I think they’re the favorite. I think they have a great team and [Steve] Kerr is a great coach. Cousins is back, which gives them a new look. It’s almost going to be unfair. It may take some time to get him accustomed to everything but they’re that good and they got so much better. They haven’t even really hit their stride but they’re more than capable and I think they’ll be at their best by the end of the year and win it again.
Who’s your MVP right now? Seems like it’s a two-man race early in the season with Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden.
I’d probably give it to Giannis because he’s been more consistent throughout the year. As great as Harden has been, he’s had a historic four or five-week stretch. Giannis’ team has been great and he’s been playing at high-level the whole way.
Shifting focus to Duke basketball for a minute, Zion Williamson is the talk of the college basketball world, what are your thoughts about him?
It’s been great. What I’ve been impressed with is that fact he still goes out and plays hard with everything magnified and all the hype and all the Zion mania, it hasn’t changed him. He’s a great teammate and respects all the guys on his team. He’s got a good head on his shoulder. He’s ready for the all greatness that is in store for him because it won’t change him. That might be more impressive. With him and RJ Barrett, they have chance to do something special this year, but certainly they have the right opportunity.
As you said he’s not the only star at Duke with Cam Reddish, Tre Jones, and RJ Barrett. You’ve been apart of some talented teams, is the this most talented starting five ever at Duke?
No. Of course, I’m biased (laughs) but I got to give it to my crew. To me it’s hard to make those type of comparisons of who’s better. I know our group was fortunate to do a lot of amazing things back in the day. These guys have all the opportunity to do something amazing this year. If they end up being the best of the best then so be it, I’m happy for him.
A lot of people compare Zion to Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Shawn Kemp, Larry Johnson...who do you think compares to him the best?
You can take a little bit of all those guys. He’s kind of all those guys with Vince Carter’s athleticism. You can see a little bit of their game in him but you can also see the Vince Carter type explosiveness in him as well. He’s almost kind of one of a kind because we haven’t seen someone like him ever.