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11 Grant Hill

WE KNOW that Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons is a member of the
elite, but exactly which one? As a commanding figure in three Final
Fours, a winner of two NCAA titles and an instant force in the NBA,
he's a member of basketball's elite. As a graduate of Duke with a
double major in history and political science, he is also in the
academic elite. But he is the product of the power elite too: His
mother, Janet, a mathematician by training, is a partner in a
high-powered Washington, D.C., consulting firm, while his father,
Calvin, a former NFL All-Pro running back, is a sports executive. Mom
shared a dorm suite with Hillary Rodham Clinton at Wellesley, and Dad
was a flatteringly rendered character in the original Doonesbury
while at Yale, so you could say Grant is the progeny of the cultural
elite too.
He's a member of them all, then. Yet the elite are supposed to
take their birthright for granted and step up regally when called
upon. Hill's reluctance to do so was for the longest time the great
struggle in the otherwise glitch- free life of this only child of
only children.
That strain of reluctance running through his career showed itself
early. As an eighth-grader in Reston, Va., Grant was so mortified
when his famous father accepted an invitation to speak at school that
he faked an illness and hid out in the nurse's office. The biggest
trauma of his adolescence occurred the next year, when Grant was a
freshman at South Lakes High. As an eighth-grader, he had been water
boy for the ninth-grade basketball team, on which most of his friends
played, and he looked forward to joining them the following season as
a member of the jayvee. But that fall, Wendell Byrd, the South Lakes
coach, invited Grant to try out for the varsity. He balked. ''Coach
Byrd told me to go home and talk to my dad,'' Grant says. ''Well,
he'd already talked to my dad.''
Calvin urged Grant to give the coach the chance to make the
decision about which team he would play on. Grant said he would, but
he wanted Calvin to know that he felt he was being forced to.
Tearfully, he accused his father of child abuse. Of course, Grant
made the varsity. His friends were genuinely happy for him, and
within a few days the trauma had passed. But it prefigured what would
happen at Duke, where coach Mike Krzyzewski spent the better part of
Hill's four years trying to develop in him a willingness to, as
Krzyzewski put it, ''jump his place in line.''
Grant's mom attributes his self-effacing manner to ''his sense of
protocol.'' His dad cites Grant's ''belief in hierarchy. He's
reluctant -- maybe too much so -- to stand out, to be perceived as
better than others.''
''I guess I wanted to be liked by everybody,'' says Grant. ''Here
my father was in sports, my parents had money, and I'm thinking that
if I do well in sports, people will get jealous of me and not like
me. I didn't want to seem better than everybody else. Eventually I
realized I was better.''
Reluctance won't do anymore. The fans want Hill out front, having
made the forward one of the top vote getters in the NBA All-Star
balloting in this, his rookie season. Madison Avenue beckons, too,
having decided he's the alpha and omega of the Q rating. He carries
his 6 ft. 8 in. so effortlessly that his game appears to have evolved
not from trial and error but from trial and success. (In what may be
the first documented instance of a basketball player's attributing
his achievements to the crucible of suburban life, Hill credits the
youth soccer he played in Reston with giving him his quick first
But there is Hill's appeal off the court too. We yearn for our
brightest sports stars to carry something extra with their
transcendent ability. Call it stature or nobility or gravitas;
whatever, it's a quality both Kareem and the Doctor had, and one
Michael and Magic and Larry all developed over time. As someone who
has had it since adolescence, Grant Hill, notwithstanding his 22
years, is the likeliest candidate to shoulder the NBA into the next