Espo: Hill doesn't need championship and that's OK

Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill, top, collides with Portland Trail Blazers center Joel Pryzbilla, bottom, as Trail Blazers forward Dante Cunningham, left, looks on in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 14, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)
Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill, top, collides with Portland Trail Blazers center Joel Pryzbilla, bottom, as Trail Blazers forward Dante Cunningham, left, looks on in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 14, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

They say winning cures all. Unfortunately losing has the exact opposite effect. That's why rumors about the Phoenix Suns possibly trading Grant Hill have spread faster than the flu this winter.

Many have said that Robert Sarver and Lon Babby owe it to Hill to give him a shot at a title elsewhere before his career comes to an end. But what if he doesn't want to chase a championship? What if he wants to stay in Phoenix? Should anyone hold it against him?

Hill is no stranger to changing opinions and criticism, just ask the fans and media in Orlando. He's been the center of attention for various reasons since college and yet he hasn't let it negatively impact him. That's because he's learned that speculation is just that, speculation.

"All this trade talk," Hill said, "I don't know where that all came from. Certainly not from me. When you are struggling there's always going to be speculation, there's always going to be talk. I understand it comes with the territory but it certainly hasn't come from me."

At 38 years old one could assume Hill would look at winning an NBA championship the same way most unathletic middle-aged balding men look at buying a convertible sports car: as some sort of midlife crisis that acts as validation of one's manhood. After what Hill has been through in his career, it would be tough to blame him for viewing things that way.

Grant Hill
Alternative content
Talks about trade rumors.
We've seen big names do the same thing for years in the NBA. Charles Barkley did it when he forced his way out of Phoenix to pair with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in Houston. Karl Malone left Utah after 18 seasons to spend one season chasing a title as a bit player with the Los Angeles Lakers. Both retired with their ring fingers as empty as the runner-up on The Bachelor.

According to sources who talked to Sports 620 KTAR's John Gambadoro, Grant Hill isn't cut from the same cloth as other athletes. They said that if traded, Hill may prefer retirement to uprooting his family and life in Phoenix.

Loyalty is a quality that should be celebrated in professional sports, yet athletes like Hill are chastised for it. They'll have fans question their competitive fire and wonder if they really care about the game. But why? Is it simply because they're human and they want to find a place to live and work in?

While the small forward didn't confirm what sources said, one can certainly see how it would be true based on what Hill did say.

"I think people fail to realize that the summer before last, after not making the playoffs, I committed to coming back here and playing," Hill said. "There were opportunities to go elsewhere and maybe some of those opportunities looked like those situations were closer to winning than we were. Obviously we had a great year last year that people didn't anticipate.

"I like it here. When you invest so much in relationships, you invest so much of your heart and soul into a team and a bunch of guys you play with and play for, it's just hard to say ‘OK, I wanna go'. I feel like the job is not done. What the job is, I don't know, but I don't feel like this is it. I feel like we can do better. I think myself and Steve are committed to trying to get it right this year."

That commitment is something that has earned him the respect of the fans and those within the Suns organization and rightfully so. He's been one of the most consistent players on the team for years and has overcome tremendous odds to do it. There are very few athletes who would have continued to endure the pain and put in the work to come back from what Hill has in his career. That hard work is a much larger testament to the kind of heart he has and the man he is than any gold and diamond ring ever could be.

It's a view head trainer Aaron Nelson agrees with and sees as a reason for Hill's success at this late stage in his career.

"I can honestly say that I have met very few people who work as hard and are as dedicated to taking care of their body as Grant Hill," the trainer said. "I don't know if fans realize the time and commitment he gives to not only making sure he stays healthy, but that he can play at a high level on the court. He has done absolutely everything we have asked him to do (and more) to make sure he moves efficiently. Grant has had several surgeries and has overcome tremendous odds to play at the level he is currently playing at for his age."

At times in our lives we are faced with our own mortality. Hill had that moment earlier than most.

During the 2000 NBA playoffs, as a member of the Detroit Pistons, Hill injured his left ankle. It was originally thought that it was only a sprain, but was later revealed to be a stress fracture. He underwent surgery and just months later signed a seven-year $93 million contract with the Orlando Magic. That's when things got interesting.

Hill never fully recovered and his ankle injury would hinder his ability to be on the court for the better part of his first three seasons with the Magic. He would only play in four games his first season, 14 his second and 29 in his third season (2002-2003). His inability to play left the small forward searching for answers. Those answers came in the form of another surgery.

After the end of his third season, in March of 2003, Hill underwent an invasive surgical procedure to attempt to correct his ankle issues. The procedure required the doctors to re-fracture his left ankle and realign it properly with his leg bone. Just days after the surgery was complete, Hill developed a 104.5 degree fever and began to have convulsions.

He was rushed to the hospital where it was revealed that he had contracted a potentially fatal infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. The infection required six months worth of intravenous antibiotics before Hill could rid himself of it.

Grant Hill
Alternative content
Talks about legacy and not needing a title
An experience like that would affect anyone, it's no wonder that it played a large part in Hill's view of his career and the importance of winning a title before it comes to an end.

"If I had not gotten hurt," Hill said, "first of all I probably wouldn't be playing right now. My ego was such that you worry about your legacy or about where's your place in history. Going through some of the injuries and the setbacks just gives you a different outlook on what's important.

"I've been fortunate to have won a championship in college and the Olympics. I haven't quite gotten there yet in the NBA. But there are so many more valuable lessons and values that you take from your experiences, both the good and the bad, that are more rewarding than having to get that ring."

Many people will view that quote, and earlier ones, as Hill lacking a killer instinct. Some will accuse him, the same way they did to Steve Nash back in 2008, of not being passionate enough about the game and that winning doesn't matter to him. Those people would be about as wrong as the players who thought wearing short-shorts in the NBA in the 1980s were cool.

If Hill didn't want to win and didn't have a passion for the game he would have retired long before coming to Phoenix in 2007. Literally, the blood, sweat and tears that Hill put into his career are proof of his passion and desire. The scars on his ankle are more of a symbol of his desire to win and succeed than the Larry O'Brien Trophy ever could be for a player.

Don't take my word for it though. Take the word of the man who has helped Hill rejuvenate his career in the Valley.

"I have two little boys, both who love Grant, and I will tell them stories of Grant's work ethic, devotion and commitment to inspire them as they grow into young men," Nelson said. "Anyone looking for inspiration for self-improvement or on what it takes to be a true sportsman and gentleman should learn more about Grant Hill."

That kind of a comment is why it shouldn't matter if a guy like Grant Hill would prefer not to chase a title in a city where he hasn't built a bond with the fans or the community. It's why it shouldn't matter if he wants to stay in Phoenix and continue to try to make it work. It's why a championship isn't the end-all, be-all for some athletes.

Championship or not, you can't deny the impact Hill's had on fans and co-workers over his career. That's all the validation any of us can hope to get over the span of our career or even lifetime.

It's been a long, strange journey for Hill in the NBA that has spanned the better part of 17 years. If that journey ends here in Phoenix without ever raising a championship banner, that's alright with him.

"Certainly if my career were to end right this day, if I walked away and got a job [in media], I'd look back at my career and have no regrets."

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