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Hill on Top of His Game

Detroit Pistons star Grant Hill offers advice on life and success for younger fans

By Sheila Dawkins

Although they took an early exit from the NBA playoffs, at least the Detroit Pistons were in the postseason hunt for the first time in four years. Much of the credit for the resurgence of the franchise goes to one man: #33, all-round hoop star, good boy, role model and, now, author Grant Hill. Although the man GQ once anointed the "savior" of basketball has accomplished more than most second-year players, one might wonder what, after only 23 years of life, he has to write about in an autobiography.

Change the Game is aimed at a smaller crowd--or maybe shorter is a better word. Hill's thoughts about his childhood, his parents and his rise to fame are geared for younger fans who could use some superhero guidance on sex, school and life. Those looking for juicy facts or crazy accounts belying Hill's clean-cut image will be disappointed.

Hill has had what seems to be a relatively wonderful life in comparison with many stars in a league where players routinely cuss out and head butt referees. He even starts his book by talking about his mom, a law partner in a Washington D.C. firm--the "Michael Jordan of mothers" according to Hill. Janet Hill set the tone for her son's stardom: "She taught me to give it my best efforts, and not be satisfied unless it was my best." It's a far cry from the childhood of, say, ex-Piston and reigning NBA troublemaker Dennis Rodman, who was left by his father when he was three and raised in a single-parent household.

Hill ascribes his competitive fire to his father, Calvin Hill, an NFL running back for nine years. Grant, 6 feet tall at age 12, was naturally drawn to the basketball hoop, shooting hoops on the black top at Twin Branches in Virginia at 14 and watching Georgetown's basketball team play from the stands.

Trying to come out from under the shadow cast by his father's football fame, Hill pushed himself to become an All-American in high school; at Duke, he won two national championships and earned a degree in history. Lest he appear too good to be true, however, Hill confesses, "I could be bad at times." He lied as a way to get out of mischief as a child and once called his grandma to tell on his mom for punishing him; yes, he could be bad.

"Celebrity is a privilege. It is not a right," Hill says, and indeed, his exemplary behavior (he's known for saying, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to the Pistons' coaches) has earned him praises and endorsements. The contrast with one-time Piston Rodman, who continues to thrive despite controversy, couldn't be sharper. After all, it was the during the "bad-boy" era of Rodman, Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas that Detroit enjoyed its greatest basketball triumphs, a fact that makes the revival of the Pistons a real pressure point for Hill.

Although he is known as an "easy access" player by reporters, Hill deals with what he considers some media "misprints" about his career, particularly GQ's negative reference to African-Americans calling Hill the "king of the hoodlums" because he was seen with some supposedly nefarious types at a nightclub, and the constant comparisons to Glenn Robinson, who held out for the bank while Hill jumped at the first opportunity to play the game when both were drafted.

While many top-name athletes today consciously shy from the notion of being a role model, Hill takes the concept seriously, spending a big part of his off-season at summer camps teaching young basketball players about the art of the game and about the realities of life. In Change the Game, he sends out universal messages about the sacrifices families make for success, the benefits of hard work and the choices that young people must make between good and bad. These are hardly earthshaking observations, but they have more impact for kids coming from an NBA all-star than they would from a child psychologist.

Simple and fumbling at points, this short journey down memory lane with Hill is worthy of a quick scan for any basketball-loving youngster or parent --even if it is just to benefit the educational charities to which Hill is donating all his royalties.

Change the Game
By Grant Hill
Warner Books; $14.95

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From the May 2-8, 1996 issue of Metro's Literary Quarterly

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