Grant Hill had a decision to make. Quick, before he answers. Mr. Jordan? Michael? Mike? He was sitting in his car, with the cellular phone set on speaker, because his buddies were cramped in there with him, hoping to hear the famous man’s voice. Hurry. What should Hill call him? Mr. Mike? Your Highness?
“Hello . . . MJ . . . it’s Grant Hill.”
MJ? He called him MJ?
“Well, yeah,” Hill laughs now. “At least I didn’t say ‘It’s GH.’ “
Welcome to The Clash of Titans, where we, the media, will no doubt make a bigger fuss than they will.
It is true, tonight is the NBA’s first meeting between its returned King and its reigning Prince: Michael Jordan, Grant Hill.
And it is true, on your way into the Palace the ushers might ask, “Which god are you rooting for?”
(Actually, they could seat the crowd by shoes. Nikes on one side, Fila on the other. All those with bald heads on one side, all those with fathers in the NFL Alumni Association on the other . . . )
But I digress.
The truth is, this is no battle — at least not mentally. Only one of these guys buys the other guy’s videotapes, only one refers to the other as “a man with no weaknesses” and only one ever wondered — on his car phone — what name showed the most respect.
MJ? He called him MJ?
“Here’s how that happened,” Hill admits. “David Falk, Michael’s agent, wanted me to sign with him when I was coming out of college. So I told him I’d like to talk to Michael about it. He gave me Michael’s home number down in Birmingham.
“The truth is, um . . . I really just wanted to talk to Michael. Awwwhahahhahaha!”
(By the way, I give Hill the edge in laughter. He has this wonderfully explosive laugh that erupts from inside him like a dropped bee hive. Jordan? All he ever does is smirk.)
Wait. Did you know Hill actually earns more money — in salary — than Jordan? Still, if you ask Grant, it’s age before booty.
“Jordan’s the best. I remember the first time I ever played him. It was in the Dream Team thing (where the college stars worked out with the pros). We came out the first day and they said, ‘Grant, you got Jordan.’
“As soon as we started, he came upcourt and said, ‘Don’t you know I can get this ball whenever I want it? And when I get it, I can do anything I want with it?’ . . .
“It was unbelievable. I’m glad there were no media in there, so there weren’t any cameras to record how he embarrassed me. . . . I felt like a Muppet.”
And yes, His Airness has the gold medal and $30 million a year in endorsements and all those championships and even a baseball card. That’s OK. Hill still has a few things going for him. For one, he has a better chance at Rookie of the Year than Michael.
And he can say his alma mater, Duke, beat Michigan in the NCAA final before Jordan’s alma mater, North Carolina, did the same.
Hill is also taller.
And has struck out less.
As for the other key matchups:
HAIR: No contest.
PRESS CONFERENCES: No contest.
SHOES: Why ask?
NBA RINGS: No fair.
NCAA RINGS: No fair.
VIDEOTAPES: Hill owns every one of Jordan’s. “I’ve got ‘Come Fly With Me,’
‘Come Fly With Me II,’ ‘Unbelieva-Bull,’ ‘MJ’s Neighborhood . . . ‘
Somehow I don’t think Jordan sits around watching “Duke — The Dream Season, 1992.”
TEAMMATES: Hill has Joe Dumars. Jordan has Scottie Pippen.
DAVID LETTERMAN APPEARANCES: Two in a month. And he played with the band.
REDSKINS’ SEASON TICKETS: Hill.
KEYS TO O’HARE AIRPORT: Jordan.
CHANCE OF AUDIENCE WITH POPE: Even.
Of course, there’s an inherent unfairness to this showdown. Hill, 22, is younger, and thus, is constantly being told he is “the next Michael Jordan.” No one ever tells Jordan, 32, he is “the next Grant Hill.”
“I don’t listen to that anyhow,” Hill says. “Every year someone is the next Michael Jordan. Next year, Jerry Stackhouse will be the next Michael Jordan. And then I’ll say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I thought I was the next Michael Jordan.’
The fact is, Jordan was never this glib, this balanced, or this much fun when he was 22. Then again, he had a lot of pressure. Like Hill, Jordan was saddled with a losing franchise when he arrived in the NBA. And like Jordan, you figure it’s just a matter of time before Hill raises a banner in Detroit.
So what you’ll see tonight may be two separate dots on a similar time line. Hill is not yet all that he will be. Jordan is still all that he was.
But if Jordan is more famous, more wealthy, more experienced, and more cocky — and if, for the moment, Hill feels privileged to watch him dunk — just remember, Detroit fans, Hill has this going for him: his birth certificate.
Which means one day, years from now, when he’s really retired, Jordan might make a phone call. And when the other party answers, he’ll say: “Hello, GH? It’s MJ.”
And Hill can say, “Who?”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Grant Hill HEIGHT: 6-feet-8. AGE: 22.
COLLEGE: Duke. HOMETOWN: Reston, Va. FAVORITE SHOE: Fila. FAVORITE DRINK: Sprite. HAIRSTYLE: Bald (his mother hates it). HOBBY: Playing piano. CHAMPIONSHIPS: NCAA (2). MEMORABLE MOMENT: Soaring dunk in opening minutes of 1991 NCAA championship game against Kansas. Michael Jordan HEIGHT: 6-6.
COLLEGE: North Carolina. AGE: 32. HOMETOWN: Wilmington, N.C. FAVORITE SHOE: Nike. FAVORITE DRINK: Gatorade. HAIRSTYLE: Bald (not much choice anymore). HOBBY: Playing baseball. CHAMPIONSHIPS: NCAA (1), NBA (3). MEMORABLE MOMENT: Jump shot in final minute that beat Georgetown in 1982 NCAA championship. Or was it that lay-up against the Lakers in the ’91 NBA Finals when he swapped hands in midair? Or was it . . . ? Comparing the rookie seasons of Michael Jordan and Grant Hill: Jordan (1984-85) G FG FT Reb Ast Stl Pts 82 .515 .845 6.5 5.9 2.4 28.2 Hill G FG FT Reb Ast Stl Pts 62 .477 .742 6.0 4.9 1.8 19.4