Grant Hill Just Exudes Confidence, Total Class : Pro basketball: Pistons’ rookies is drawing raves and being compared to the legendary Michael Jordan.
Detroit Pistons rookie Grant Hill doesn’t have green hair. And there’s no hint of swagger in his talk.
But he’s not afraid to speak his mind, be it about the “exploitation” of student-athletes or educating minority youngsters.
Here’s an NBA star who stands out as much for his good manners off the court as for his dunks among peers notorious for their brassiness and inflated egos. Fans, Pistons Coach Don Chaney and team captain Joe Dumars are already comparing him to Michael Jordan.
The All-American from Duke University quietly shrugs it off.
“Sometimes you have to have good guy, bad guy. That sells, good vs. bad. It sells to the media. It sells to the fans,” Hill said in an interview.
The comparisons to Jordan he can do without.
“It’s just too much pressure. People mean it as a compliment, but it’s like one person has said it, and it sort of steamrolled and it’s like now everyone says it. It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to Michael.”
It’s just four months ago that Hill, a No. 3 draft pick, signed an eight-year, $45 million contract with the Pistons. He leads in fan balloting for starting positions in the 1995 NBA All-Star game, with more votes than the Orlando Magic’s Shaquille O’Neal or Dream Team member Dumars.
He also has multimillion-dollar endorsement contracts with Fila U.S.A. sneakers, General Motors Corp. trucks and Schick. Although it’s still early, he’s a strong contender for Rookie of the Year.
Out of uniform and donning a worn-out Pistons T-shirt, Hill looks a lot younger, much closer to “a normal 22-year-old” he claims to be. But, when he starts to speak, he exudes confidence.
He makes it clear that he thinks some NCAA rules are hurting student-athletes and should be changed.
“On all levels, there’s going to be exploitation. When universities are making millions and millions of dollars, and there are kids who can’t even afford to go to a movie, I think something is wrong there,”’ Hill said.
“Every time I want to go into my bookstore at Duke University and buy my jersey to give to my dad, and it costs me $85, I don’t think that’s right. They’re selling my jersey and making money off me.
“The NCAA really needs to change. It’s ridiculous,” he said.
And he’s critical of the way a career in professional sports can be played up.
“Especially in the inner cities with African-Americans, they feel the only way to make it is through sports,” he said. “The percentages of making it as a professional athlete are far less than making it as a doctor or a lawyer.
“One day you have to put the basketball down, or the football down, or the baseball down. What you learned upstairs in your head will stay with you for the rest of your life.”
Hill graduated with a double-major in political science and history, while leading Duke to two NCAA championships.
Limping from a foot injury, he appears almost frail despite his 6-foot-8 frame. His lip is swollen with stitches from a collision in a Jan. 3 game against the Lakers.
Hill’s is among those injuries that have sent the Pistons tumbling to last place in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference after a brief run in first.
Before his injury, Hill had scored more than 20 points in 12 of 25 games and led the team with two steals per game.
“People ask me, ‘How do you adjust to losing?’ and I can’t adjust. It hurts the same way it hurt in college,” he said. “I tell people I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in the last two months.”
The Pistons’ losing streak may be a staggering challenge for a rookie hired to turn the team around from a disastrous 20-62 1993-94 season.
But Hill has been blessed at a time when other NBA stars have suffered from bad press: San Antonio’s green-haired Dennis Rodman, a former Piston, was suspended for bad behavior; Milwaukee rookie Glenn Robinson was labeled as greedy when he demanded a $100 million contract; and former Michigan star Chris Webber was criticized as spoiled in his clashes with Golden State coach Don Nelson.
“We’re tired of the trash-talking, in-your-face, slam dunk, rip-the-rim-down scenario,” said Jap Trimble, manager of basketball operations at Fila, which plans to bring out a Hill sneaker.
“What Grant brings is total class, elegance, grace and the ability to communicate effectively with all people.”
The national attention lavished on Hill hasn’t happened for the Pistons since the 1989 and 1990 championship teams, said Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek.
Hill’s father, Calvin, is a former Dallas Cowboys running back, one of few Yale graduates to make it in the NFL. His mother, Janet, is a corporate consultant and was a dorm-mate of Hillary Rodham Clinton at Wellesley College.
“I’m such a disciplinarian that when he was growing up, I was referred to by his friends and him as the General,” said Mrs. Hill, in town on one of several trips to cook and freeze lasagna dinners for her only child.
“I look back on it now and I think I was extraordinarily strict. But you know what? If I had to do it over again, I gotta tell you I’d be the same way.”
When a teen-age Grant Hill missed a curfew, she smashed his watch, noting that he obviously hadn’t bothered to look at it. She got the watch fixed, put it in a box and gave it back to him for his next birthday, she recalled.
Calvin Hill, who has been trying to buy the Washington Bullets, said his son is a player he would want on his team.
“The bottom line is he can play. I don’t think he has to take a back seat to anyone as to who’s going to be the face of the NBA,” he said.
“It’d be one thing if he were acting, the pressure to be something other than what you are. What’s being hyped is not hype.”