Grant Hill spent 19 years in the NBA, was a seven time all-star, and if not for injuries would have had an even better pro career. Before that, he was a two time college all-american and champion with the Duke Blue Devils. The on court success has continued into retirement. He is an accomplished investor, real estate mogul and is co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks.
Last week I interviewed the former basketball star. We talked for about 15 minutes and discussed Grant’s role as the national ambassador for the Allstate NABC Good Works Team®. His thoughts on the college basketball season, and athletes as activists.
How did you get involved with Allstate and the NABC Good Works Team?
My first introduction to community service, giving back, and just really understanding the impact of it is when I was in college. We had stuff that we did and that really had an impact on me and has throughout my entire adult life. I understand the importance of doing it and being part of the Good Works Team is one of the joys for me during the college basketball season. As a judge, to be able to recognize the work that these student athletes do and to actually meet them at the Final Four that’s something that I enjoy and look forward to doing again this year.
You mentioned your love for community service began at Duke. As you know student athletes have heavy time commitments, what do you consider a college athlete’s responsibility to be as it relates to community service?
It’s hard to balance that and to juggle all those responsibilities and then to have a social life as well because I think is important. It can be tough and so I can only imagine when you hear these stories and the hours they commit, you can feel the passion when you read about these young men or you meet them, it’s truly quite remarkable and how they are able to find their balance. It’s not a mandatory thing, it’s something that they voluntarily do.
It’s really, really remarkable. But to understand the platform that you have as a student athlete and the commitment, for these young men to use their platforms speaks to their character, their intellect. Understanding the responsibility that comes with being an athlete. That’s what it’s all about. So to be able to bring light and exposure to these young men I think hopefully will motivate and inspire others to do the same.
Switching to things on the court. We are turning towards January and conference play, which teams are you impressed with so far during the early season?
Yeah I think there’s been the teams that I knew would be pretty good. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and North Carolina. Even though Villanova lost a couple of players from last year’s team they are still going and are going to have a good season. Baylor has been a surprise thus far, and UCLA is good. The way it’s shaping up thus far no team has stood out from the rest. I think right now if I was discussing the field I’d say that maybe six or seven teams could possibly win the championship. But I think the picture will become clear as we get more into conference play. This is always a fun, exciting time of the year knowing that we are about to get into conference play and seeing new teams will emerge.
You mentioned UCLA. What are your thoughts on Lonzo Ball? Has he lived up to the hype thus far?
Yeah, that kid is special and it’s been a lot of fun watching him. His athleticism, his court vision, his ability to score. He is a special player that has made UCLA relevant again. I think the overall level of talent in this year’s freshman class is really high. It’s shaping up to be a season of great young players who have potential beyond college basketball. But Lonzo is special, he has that it quality. He has All America superstar written all over him. It’s fun watching him and it will be fun to continue to watch him and see him hopefully develop and take UCLA to a magical place this season.
Do you think the overall health of the college basketball game is better when teams like UCLA and traditional blue bloods are good?
I think that really can be debated. I think that when there are upsets that’s always great. Particularly in a single elimination tournament. It’s what makes the tournament so special. But when you have programs that people know, that people have watched through the years. They know about UCONN, Carolina, Indiana, UCLA. It is beneficial to have programs, that have large followings. These are programs that I think people will tune in to watch. I think it’s great that a mid major makes it to the Final Four and possibly win. It’s good to have diversity in terms of how to do it and how to go about having success but yeah I think it’s good when the big programs and programs that people know and people follow make it.
Switching gears now. With your upbringing and background. Dad is a Yale alum and played professional football. Your mom is a Wellesley alum. You went to Duke. That’s something that is not typical in the African-American community. How does the way you were educated color the way you view society at large?
My parents are pretty remarkable with what they have been able to do with their lives. Their integrity, and their intellect. I am shaped and influenced by them in a lot of different ways and I’m fortunate for that. I have a perspective that has helped me throughout my career going back to when I was in college, entering the NBA and certainly now as I’ve moved on.
I look up to my parents. I think they are the two of the smartest people that I know. I know that having them as a resource, as examples, as influences has really helped shape me and allowed me to go down this path. I’m very fortunate and appreciative of that. I still use them as examples, as resources. Now as a parent myself, I certainly try to hopefully be as good or half as good. I’ll take being half as insightful and helpful to my children.
We know that sports is a microcosm of society. Given the current political and social climate in this country, how do you see sports and professional leagues reflecting that climate?
Well, I think a couple of things. One, I think the beauty of sports and in particular basketball I think it can be sometimes a welcomed distraction. I think when there’s unrest, when there’s division, when there’s destitute I think sometimes sports can be something where it can bring some commonality. We know there are differences and certainly this last campaign and election cycle exposed that to a degree.
I think sports can be something that can help bring people together and galvanize communities. I also think that athletes, and historically this has been the case, have a voice and athletes have the ability to move the needle. They have the ability to influence those that watch and support and follow them and I think this generation of athletes in their own way are doing that. I think one of the things that helps and I think allows for this is the role of social media. Social media gives everybody a platform, allows you to speak to a larger audience. Everyone has a voice.
Seeing this generation of athletes use social media in response to what we are seeing in communities, whether it be police brutality the gap between the haves and have nots, or what has taken place during the recent election cycle has been very interesting. Sports plays an important role during the difficult times and I think that’s an important outlet and an important distraction at times regardless of our differences. We can root to that same team and find joy and I think that’s important, that’s an important message.
Do you think it’s incumbent on athletes who have a platform to do something to speak for the voiceless?
Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you should be preaching. I think we expect all of our athletes to be a voice. It has to be genuine, it has to be real, you have to be informed. Not everyone should be put in that position. It’s got to be a certain profile, it’s got to be the right person. Someone who really is committed, passionate and is informed.
Just because you can dribble a basketball doesn’t mean you are always the right person or have the right approach to whatever needs to be said or done. I look at someone like LeBron James who has done just that. He has used this platform and done it the right way and he is someone who is clearly well read on the subject matter and he can move the needle and that’s important. I’m not sure everyone should have that role or that responsibility. It doesn’t mean you have to have the profile of a LeBron James, it just means I think you have to be informed. You have to know what you are talking about, you have to have credibility, not just as an athlete but as an athlete who knows and is truly aware of what is happening.
Good stuff from Grant, as we ended the interview I wanted to clarify a phrase that has been thrown around a lot. The “right way.” As it regards to protests and standing up for a cause. For Grant, the “right way” means being intelligent and fully engaged with the cause. It has nothing to do with how or the manner in which people choose to protest or fight for their cause. An important distinction that bears mentioning.
My thanks to Grant Hill for spending time with Black Sports Online.