Happy Birthday, Grant Hill! His Top 10 NBA Moments

Grant Hill turns 40 today, one of the game’s greatest in his Detroit prime yet still one of its greatest comeback stories today. His career path is well trod now, but one of the very best to not win a ring has that chance as a Clipper. The man whose ankles nearly killed him has played about five years without even ankle braces, a remarkable story that he hopes ends in storybook fashion this season alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Los Angeles.

It’s an easy chance to bring back my top 10 favorite moments of Hill’s career in the NBA, but it’s also a chance to remember that beneath the player who sat next to first lady Michelle Obama at the London Olympic opening ceremonies, who plays piano and writes op-ed rebuttals to Jalen Rose in The New York Times, there’s a player who will do anything to win. He doesn’t get enough credit for that drive, even thought it’s kept him going at now age 40. We can bring him up as one side of one of the most frustrating NBA debates, ever, or remember the amazing that went with the bad. Here’s Hill’s top 10 moments.

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This is NBA moments, so I’m leaving out his heave to Christian Laettner to beat Kentucky, the most memorable play in NCAA Tournament history. I will, however, include this heat-seeking dime to Shannon Brown to get two easy points against the Kings.

One of the classic Michael Jordan stories is by legendary photographer Walter Iooss Jr., who had unprecedented access to MJ for a book they did together. In that time, Jordan was very candid about the state of his Bulls. It’s easy to look back at those six title teams now and think they were unassailable; in the moment, Jordan wasn’t so pleased.

Michael was merciless in an amusing way, but he said things to your face. In 1998 the Bulls had Joe Kleine, Luc Longley and Bill Wennington as their centers. One day Michael was in the training room after a practice, and I was sitting there while he iced down. Those three centers walked by, and Jordan said, “You know what I have to play with?” He looked right at them and said, “Twenty-one feet of s—.”

I don’t think this play helped Wennington’s case with MJ at the time.

Hill has the distinction of dunking on three generations of players, and his slam on Dikembe Mutumbo during the first round of the 1997 playoffs was one of his best works. There would be no finger wag on this.

BONUS dunk on Mutumbo:

Mark Davis never had a chance with either the spin in the lane or the two-handed facial that followed.

The sheer amount of time Hill has played in the NBA means he’s spent a lot of time trying to get inside his opponents’ minds. What they’re thinking, when they’re thinking it — it’s enough game-planning to merit an honorable doctorate in psychology. One of the best examples is when he caught the Grizzlies not thinking in 2009 by getting an easy bucket after pretending to dribble to the sideline for a timeout.

You didn’t come into Alonzo Mourning‘s house (AKA, the key for most the mid-90s) unless you had a search warrant and even then you had to tiptoe inside. Hill just kicked the door in with this facial dunk as a Piston. As a related note, this replay is, for me, the one I’m most upset about watching because of the potential I know will be undone by ankle injuries. Hill’s willingness to go right at shot blockers in the lane was a vastly underrated part of his game.

Enough said.

This isn’t, for the record, a rookie AI going left to right on MJ (Hill had one of those, actually, but it wasn’t as good as this one). Hill was established, part of the NBA’s engine, one of the expected stars. But where Iverson had a reputation to live up to as a basketball poet with a handle that could speak to you, Hill always had a handle that seemed just good enough. It wasn’t made of flash, but delivered the ball from halfcourt to the rim quickly. Here he surprised Jordan with a little left-to-right cross that went to the court’s weakside.

2. 42, 42, 40
Hill’s most devastating stretch of basketball came in a four-game period in 2000, one that brought him into the forefront of the 2000 free agency class by scoring at least 40 points in three of those games. On Jan. 3, at Orlando he went for 42 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds; on Jan. 5 against Atlanta he scored 42 points on 61 percent from the floor shooting, while going 13-of-15 from the line; two games later on Jan. 8, he dropped 40 points with 9 assists and 7 rebounds on Minnesota.

Unfortunately, no video of these games exists on YouTube. So, here’s him showing up Joakim Noah with a baseline facial dunk.

This isn’t the moment you thought would be No. 1, but watch the clip. It’s less than a minute. Now let me explain. Everyone, not just me, puts people and players in little descriptive boxes; Hill is a gentleman’s baller. It’s easier this way to go back and remember who they are and how they play, like a Confucian Memory Palace to hold all of our basketball knowledge. This clip is so good, so extremely No. 1, because it cuts down those stereotypes down to their honest truth — Hill is as much a ruthless competitor as he is gentlemanly outside of the whistles. We can’t believe one without realizing the other. So when the 38-year-old Hill here stuffs a full-speed, 21-year-old Jerryd Bayless looking to put a shovel of dirt on Hill’s playing days — then tells him to “GIMME THAT *#$&” — it reminds me that Hill is a cold-blooded competitor. The reason why he has been so good for so long is that he’s a calculating player too, and his famed IQ (basketball or otherwise) lets him crunch the numbers and know the best ways to make his point.

What do you think?

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