Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Grant Hill, 50, discusses what it was like playing high school basketball in Reston and why he decided to write his autobiography.
What was it like to play high school basketball in Northern Virginia?
It was a dream come true. And I say that because as a little kid, I grew up watching high school basketball and high school sports. But as I like to say, back in the early ’80s, there was a lot less competition for entertainment dollars — so you went to dinner, to the movies, or you went to a high school sporting event. So I spent many Friday nights at South Lakes football and basketball games. That was my first introduction to high school sports. For me, I guess I didn’t dream too big, but the opportunity to one day play on that stage was something that consumed me during those early years.
What made you choose Coach K’s program over other area universities?
I had a list of five schools that I narrowed down to, maybe by junior year of high school, and Georgetown and Virginia, were on that list. Maryland was on the list, but after Lefty Driesell was let go and there were some violations in the program I think they were eliminated from my list of schools. Georgetown, Virginia, and Maryland and those are three programs that as a diehard fan, you grew up watching in the Big East and the ACC. You throw in Carolina, Duke, and Michigan, and those kind of rounded out the [list of] schools.
The area schools and the great programs and great coaches and great personalities was something that you saw a lot of and not just the schools with close proximity to the DMV area – [these schools also had] a number of players who were from the area who played there. There was a sense of pride, it was also a real strong rivalry between those schools. For me, I think part of why Duke was the school I decided upon was, obviously, it was Coach K, it was a great program. And also, I think I needed to get a little away from home. So I think it was just far enough for me.
What influenced you to write Game?
I was far enough removed from playing. I had enough experiences, in time, to sort of have perspective on my playing career. I think the real impetus was probably the induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Achievement naturally puts you in a moment of reflection. And I think it was like, “OK, now is the time to tell my story.” And the story is not complete … but the Hall of Fame enshrinement, it’s the final sort of bow on your career. I was getting closer to 50, so it just kind of all felt like this was it and I had something to say. I felt like I had an interesting journey. A lot that people know, but also a lot that people didn’t know. To be able to reflect and learn and share, I was ready to do it.
How do you think being able to profit from your name and image in college, the way athletes do now, would’ve changed your experience?
Back when I played, our teams at Duke were good, relevant, and high-profile. I’m sure we would’ve participated in that — and certainly had more disposable income than what we had. I also will say that my four years in school, they weren’t perfect. There were definitely difficult times, as crazy as that might sound with all the success we had. I liked the journey that I had … there was still an innocence in a way. It was less professional. Things have changed a great deal since then, so I don’t know if I would want to play in this environment.
Looking back, is it crazy to think that you used to be just another kid from Virginia?
In the process of going through the book, you are forced to go back in and live certain moments of your life. I’m always sort of looking forward — for new goals, new opportunities, and, hopefully, new accomplishments. What I realized in part is that [I’m] still that kid that grew up, loved the game, and dreamed about bigger things around the game. Growing up in Reston and dreaming of going to South Lakes, and dreaming of playing in college … I don’t think I ever imagined that I would do what I’ve done. And to still be doing it — work in TV, ownership with the Atlanta Hawks, and the head of USA basketball on the men’s team — all of these roles and responsibilities around the game that I fell in love with as a kid growing up in Northern Virginia. I’m still in awe when I look at it through that lens. I’ve learned to expand and dream big and dream with my eyes open. But certainly very grateful and very lucky.
Any teams to watch out for in the tourney?
Obviously, I’m always rooting for my Dukies. They’re young and new to the Jon Scheyer era so that should be fun to watch. But North Carolina is good. Gonzaga’s good. Houston with Kelvin Sampson. So many teams right now. …But I really don’t have a crystal ball. I watch a lot of games. Every night a different game’s on, so it’s fun to watch these programs, but I have zero idea how it’s all gonna play out. And that’s the beauty of college basketball.
This story originally ran in our February issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.