As the 2009 NBA season staggered to a close for the Phoenix Suns, it was a foregone conclusion to many that Grant Hill had played his last game for the Suns. He was a free agent, had played a full, injury free season, and had proven he still had some serious game left in the tank. All that added together seemed to point to Hill hooking up with a championship contender to pick up that illusive championship ring he had not acquired at the NBA level.
The Suns gave some typical lip service, stating they'd love to have Hill back, but Steve Kerr and Co. did not come out with the same tenacity (or verbiage as they did about extending Steve Nash). Instead, Steve Kerr, in the midst of his do almost nothing period of a couple weeks that seemed like a year, made a quick trip to Orlando, insulted Hill with a ridiculous offer, and returned with nothing. Hill responded by testing his suitors. Among the seven or so teams that were interested in Hill were the New York D'Antoni's and the Boston Garnett-Pierce's. It seemed inevitable that Hill would sign with either team. The D'Antoni's were very appealing to Hill, as well as his wife, Tamika. Stories abounded that she was giving him the good old fashioned wifey nudge towards New York. Further, they were willing to offer the most money-a one year mid level deal worth about $5 million or a 3 year deal worth about $10 million. But the Celtics obviously gave Hill the best chance to win a title. The problem was that he would be playing behind Paul Pierce. After Rasheed Wallace was signed, the money left for Hill was only a $1.9 million biannual exception.
The stereotypical professional athlete is known for their avarice, greed, and inflated ego. Individuals who may say the right things into a microphone, or in front of a camera (Terrell Owens not withstanding), and then go out and live a contradiction. The athlete grows up playing the game out of love as a youth. But if they are lucky and talented enough to play the game as a profession, the game has turned into his livelihood, and like most occupations, doesn't necessarily remain a youthful love affair. The business side of things changes the pristine innocence of what once was just a game. Between market values, contractual terms, free agency, and other complications, the athlete's motives often change, or are judged based on the decisions he makes both during the game and in their personal lives. When faced with the choice of money or winning, oftentimes, (and understandably so) the athlete will choose the money. Yet an interesting trend for some has developed. For many veteran athletes who have already made money to last several lifetimes, instead of hearing, "pay me," we are hearing "I want to win."
Grant Hill has made gobs of money. And yes, he signed on with the Suns two years ago to play for a title at a minimal salary. Such is the evidence he is no longer motivated by the dollar. But did he want a ring? Yes. Two years ago the Suns were a contender. But two years later, when offered a legitimate chance of a title in signing with the Celtics, Grant spurned their offer and signed with the Phoenix Suns. Why? Keep in mind Hill has missed 361 regular season games in 12 seasons. Further, the Suns most likely won't make it deep into the playoffs, and are not even a lock as one of the top eight of the Western Conference. The Suns didn't offer the most money or the greatest chance for an NBA title. But what the Suns did offer was appreciation and respect-a modest raise in salary based on his strong, healthy 2008/9. But most importantly, he has the chance to play the game he loves as much as he wants. Grant Hill gets the chance to make up for all the lost time away from the basketball court.
In the end Grant Hill didn't want the big New York money or the likelihood of a championship with Boston. Grant simply wanted to play the game he loves with an organization and teammates he is comfortable with. And that, Suns fans, is worthy of the ultimate respect for a professional athlete.