by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

He never mentioned money. He never gushed about some new car he was going to buy, or some new mansion with a hundred rooms. He made no joke about how
“the ladies in Detroit better watch out,” as one top draft choice had done years before him. He didn’t preen or mug. He wore no earring. He didn’t boast,
“There’s a new sheriff in town!”

You want to know the first thing Grant Hill did as a Piston? He listened to a question. And before he answered, he noticed the crowd in the back, and asked, politely, “Could you all hear that?”

That might strike you as trivial. Believe me, it is not. In this day and age, when sports are collapsing under the weight of their own greed and athletes seem able to speak only one word — it begins with “m” and ends with
“e” — any sign of consideration, even asking whether the folks in the back heard the question, should be noted.

So take note. The Pistons got more than a player when they signed Grant Hill at the Palace on Thursday. They got, as coach Don Chaney put it, “a package.” That package contains: one brain, well-tended and developed; one heart, battle-ready; two hands that can score and defend; one torso that can twist until the basket is his; a set of eyes that have seen glory and defeat; a set of ears that have absorbed the best college coaching in America; a mouth that thinks before it speaks; and a memory that holds the life lessons of pro sports, as taught by a dad who lived them.

When you break it down that way, $45 million seems like a bargain.

“I appreciate all that Mr. McKinney has done,” Hill said Thursday, moments after signing.

Vice president of basketball operations Billy McKinney smiled. “I appreciate the way he just got all that money and still calls me ‘Mister.’ “

Up Hill from here. Dumars is foundation for rebuilding

“I know people have high expectations of me,” said Hill, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and conservative tie, “but I have high expectations of myself.”

The crowd seemed to swallow every word he said and beamed as if he were related to them. It has been awhile since the Pistons drafted a big-time, All-America college star. There were years when the team was so good, the top pick was cut before the season.

Of course, those years ended with championships. More recently they’ve ended with boos. So now they rebuild. Joe Dumars is the foundation. Lindsey Hunter and Allan Houston are important bricks. Oliver Miller and Mark West might be new walls.

Hill is the cornerstone.

“Billy and I talked about the type of people we wanted around here,” said Chaney, watching his new player smile and shake hands with well-wishers. “We got rid of some bad people and we’re going after people who know what it takes to win. . . . I don’t have to teach Grant how to be unselfish. It’s there.”

So are many other rarely seen qualities. For one thing, the kid graduated college, an anomaly among top picks. He started a Detroit charity before he even saw a dime from the Pistons. He involved himself in the negotiating and financial elements of his career — rather than telling an agent “just send me the check.”

And I can’t remember the last time I heard a draft pick refer to his father’s career as “a Renaissance.”

Which is another thing. The parents. So many times you attend press conferences, and either the parents aren’t there, or they sit and smile meekly and say “Whatever he wants is OK by us.”

Not Thursday. Here were parents who don’t consider their job finished just because their child calls a press conference. Calvin Hill, the former NFL star, said his son must “keep his balance. Just because he’s making money as a pro athlete, he isn’t insulated from the real world. I remember thinking, when I first got into pro football, that the rules didn’t apply to me. I want him to know they do.”

Maybe some draft picks would be embarrassed by this, a father telling reporters that $45 million doesn’t mean his son is all grown up.

I thought it was terrific. Hill had Webber’s number

And lest you think I’m over-impressed with education — what a sad world when thinking that would be wrong — note that the 6-foot-8 Hill also has the competitive fire of a typical sports superstar. He not only led his Duke team to two — and almost three — national championships, but when asked about Chris Webber on Thursday, he quickly responded, “I’ve never lost to Chris Webber. Our teams played in the AAU as kids, and we won at 13, at 14, at 16, and then in college at Duke. I’ve never lost to him.’

“You sure?” someone asked.

“Oh, yeah.”

He smiled. And then, remembering his manners, he quickly added, “Chris will probably have something to say about that this year.”

We have in this kid the etchings of something important: character. That has always been Dumars’ trademark as well. And the thought of these two on the same team is reason enough to buy a ticket. I don’t know how much the Pistons will win this season. But I know there won’t be half-baked effort, sleepy defense and laughing after losses, as there has been in the past. Win or lose, the team led by Dumars and Hill will never shame itself.

And maybe, that will be the kid’s biggest contribution. At a time when you want to throw the sports section in the trash, Hill delivers the element we need most on the playing fields and hardwood courts of America:

Something to be proud of.

Up Hill from here. Yak fact: Grant Hill is the 14th player from Duke to be a first-round pick. All previous picks played in the NBA; their average career lasted 5.6 years.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!