If you’ve forgotten just how good he was, take a moment to re-acquaint yourself with the mid-’90s Hill via YouTube. Marvel at Hill’s otherworldly speed and athleticism, his ability to handle the ball and cover the length of the floor like a point guard and his explosiveness around the rim. This is how you’ll want to remember him, all youth and pep and limitless potential, a once-in-a-generation talent that was poised to carry the NBA torch into the new millennium. Admittedly, it’s tempting to erase from memory all those injury-plagued seasons, the years of frustration and disappointment. But to disregard the darker chapters of his story would ultimately do a disservice to his legacy as they are positively central to deeper understanding of who he is.
As a college player at Duke, Hill was a two-time NCAA Champion and ACC Player of the Year, and it was his savvy, full-court pass in the final seconds of the 1992 National Championship game versus Kentucky that led to Christian Laettner’s iconic game-winning buzzer-beater. He was selected third overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1994 NBA Draft and went on to share Co-Rookie of the Year honors with Jason Kidd.
He instantly became a fan favorite in the NBA, partly because he came across as such an affable guy, and during his first two seasons he led all players in All-Star voting despite Michael Jordan’s prodigal return from baseball. Even more staggering are the statistical averages he put up during his first six seasons in Detroit: 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, a stat-line matched only by the immortal Oscar Robertson during his first six seasons in the league.