NBA needs more stories like Hill's

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

The pictures have been in the news, every night and every morning. We've seen them so often we know every punch from every angle, with stop action and every spill of beer. The NBA nightmare being replayed over and over again with non-stop commentary and non-stop horror.

Just not last night on my television screen. Instead, there was Grant Hill, no longer a punchline, no longer a victim, no longer an argument against the rules of a salary cap, playing for the Orlando Magic against your Toronto Raptors.

There was Grant Hill and it doesn't matter whom you cheer for, or whom you care about, or what you might think of Ron Artest, but at a time the league needs him most an NBA star has been reborn.

This is good news in a bad-news world. One of the real people in a sporting climate of few has returned from the exile of career-threatening ankle surgery. The kind of story the NBA has to sing out loud right now in an attempt to dampen the lingering dismay over the brawl in Auburn Hills.

The kind of story they make movies about.

Almost anybody else would have quit by now had it been their life. They would have given up on the recovery. Taken the guaranteed money -- seven years and $93 million US -- and limped away.

Just not the 32-year-old son of Calvin and Janet Hill. He had surgery and then he had it again. And when it didn't work, he had it again. Five operations in four years. This is Year 5 since he signed a monstrous free-agent contract with the Magic, the first time Grant Hill is expected to start a season and actually finish it.

After several attempts to fix his ankle, it took a surgeon to intentionally re-break it, realign his heel with his leg bone, and it was after that Hill thought he was going to die. That is not an overstatement or simply a dramatic reference. A staph infection post-surgery caused him to go into convulsions, be rushed to hospital, have a fever near 105F, and live on intravenous fluids for the next eight weeks.

It happens, an orthopedic surgeon informed me, in about 1% of all cases.

GONE WRONG

But everything that could have gone wrong with Hill seemed to from the minute he left Detroit as a free agent. In all he played in only 47 games in his first three seasons with the Magic, none at all last season, but he hasn't missed any in this miracle-return season.

He is scoring more than 20 points a night, just a touch below his career average, playing 35 minutes, delivering what even the optimists couldn't see.

"I don't plan on breaking any more hearts," Hill told the Orlando Sentinel. Or breaking anything else for that matter. The fight to come back has been that hard and that long and that unexpected.

Magic officials thought about exposing him in the expansion draft and then changed their mind. They figured if he couldn't play this year they would finally get some salary cap conciliation and so they went out and signed free-agent Hedu Turkoglu to take Hill's forward position.

Now, they couldn't be happier. Tracy McGrady (message to Rob Babcock) is gone, Steve Francis has taken his place nicely, Hill is scoring and the Magic has suddenly transformed from one of the worst teams in the East to one of the best.

Grant Hill is that rare player to celebrate at a time when fiasco and basketball seem one and the same and he seems so far removed from all of it.


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