Grant Hill on Back-to-Backs in NBA: 'There's No Excuses'
Speaking by phone with Bleacher Report, Hill discussed everything from his all-time starting five to the importance of player diets to the significance of back-to-backs. He also offered up some thoughts about the league's current one-and-done rule, admitting that more collegiate experience could be necessary.
"I think two years minimum of college would certainly help," Hill, who played four years at Duke University, said. "I don't know if in one year guys kind of fully buy in."
Hill was speaking with Bleacher Report in promotion of the Allstate NABC Good Works Team. He is among the voting panelists who helped decide which nominees were eventually named to the team.
Per a news release, the Good Works Team is a "preeminent community service honor recognizing college basketball players who have made a commitment to improving their communities and the lives of others."
"That was very, very eye-opening on my part," Hill says of his involvement with the NABC Good Works Team. "It's a good thing. It's a good message."
Still one of the more cerebral athletes out there, Hill had some useful messages of his own, providing plenty of insight into the game he devoted nearly two decades of his life to.
On Starting Fives and Guarding Shaquille O'Neal
Bleacher Report: If you could build an all-time starting five using every NBA player ever, who would make the cut?
Grant Hill: I'd have Magic [Johnson], Michael [Jordan], Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, I don't know, maybe Oscar Robertson.
B/R: If you could build a starting five using every active NBA player, who would make the cut?
B/R: Who would you say was the most difficult player you had to guard while in the NBA?
GH: One time I was switched off on Shaq, Shaquille O'Neal. And that was not fun.
On NBA's One-and-Done Rule
B/R: You weren't a one-and-done player at Duke, and with new commissioner Adam Silver having talked about increasing the NBA's age limit, what would you say your stance is on that? Are you for it or against it?
GH: It's definitely sort of a divisive issue. I wouldn't be opposed to that. I think two years minimum of college would certainly help. I don't know if in one year guys kind of fully buy in.
I don't know how being in school can't help you. To me, it can only help, as opposed to hurt. I think you have examples of players who come in and make that adjustment and become great players and have wonderful careers. Then you have guys who don't, who maybe had bad advice or what have you.
I think it would be good for the college game and I also think it would be good for the NBA. I'm sure there are people who think otherwise, so we'll see what happens. But it certainly is an interesting idea. I think two years minimum [of college ball] would certainly be a bonus for the league.
On Difficulty of Back-to-Backs
B/R: What makes playing back-to-backs so difficult?
GH: I feel like it's difficult—sometimes you can look at it as difficult. In theory, it should be difficult. I actually liked back-to-backs, and I liked playing the second game of a back-to-back. Basketball to me is about rhythm. I was the type of player that, if I took a week off, if I was out with an injury, I always felt like it took me a week to get that rhythm back and to get that time back.
I wanted to play, and so for me, I enjoyed it. If you played tonight in Portland and then you play tomorrow in Dallas—the game's over, you get on the plane, you don't get into Dallas until three, four in the morning and then you play later that night—yeah, in theory, it should be difficult. It's hard to recover. It's hard to get your sleep. It's a weird lifestyle. You learn to take naps. You learn to take care of your body, eat right and so on.
But I enjoyed it. That's part of the challenge. Everybody has to go through it. Nobody has an advantage over others. Everyone has those moments where you get in late at night, the [other] team is sitting there resting, [having] not played the night before. I enjoyed it. I even got to a point late in my career, at 38, 39, where my performance on the second game of back-to-backs was better than the first game.
I'm a little bit like [Kevin] McHale in the old-school sense that it's a little overrated. Like, everybody goes through it, is part of it. It's part of the grind of the NBA season. And sometimes, you lose out because of the back-to-back; sometimes you don't. But you have to be prepared and ready to play every game. There's no excuses, and that's part of the NBA.
On Preparing for Back-to-Backs
B/R: So you wouldn't say there was a certain point late in your career when it got harder, since, like you said, you started to play better during your late 30s in back-to-backs?
GH: I don't want to say I was playing better. When I was in my 20s, I was playing at a high level. I think as you get older, it gets harder. You just have to learn to adapt. You have to learn how to eat right, you have to learn to be disciplined about your rest, stretching and doing all the different types of things. It's important.
There's a lot of work that went into getting myself right. I didn't just wake up and go play. But it's part of it. It's part of the NBA. It is what it is. You learn to deal with it. It might be tough at first as a rookie going into it, but you adapt. You figure it out. You get into a rhythmic routine of it.
As you get older, it gets more challenging. You have to put more work into it. You figure it out and you adapt.
On Importance of Player Diets
B/R: How important did diet become later in your career?
GH: Diet played a huge role. For me, I got to a point where I eliminated sugars from my diet. You may say, 'Why?' Well, sugar creates inflammation in your body and inflammation is what you're trying to eliminate when you're trying to recover. Just understanding the role that food plays and how it affects your body [helps].
When playing too many games, I'm not going to gain weight. It's not about getting heavy or anything like that. It's more just about how you feel. Certain foods, when you're in your early 20s, you can eat and you have no problems and your body just responds like a 20-year-old. When you get to 37, 38, 40, your body is a little bit more sensitive.
Just being very disciplined about my diet and what I put into my body [helped]. I found I had good success with it, and it played a huge role.
B/R: What were some of the biggest differences in the staples of your diet later in your career vs. earlier?
GH: Early in my career I ate what I wanted. I just ate. I ate whatever I wanted and I still would have a hard time maintaining my weight.
But like I said, one of the things I eliminated was sugars. And even foods that act like sugars. I drank a lot of water and ate a lot of clean foods. I still ate meat, fish and things like that. But I just made healthy decisions, which is not always easy when you're on the road and eating on planes.
But you think ahead. There's usually Whole Foods in every city. I became very particular. I think one of the major things I did was eliminating sugars. You know, none of the sports sugary drinks, no sweet tooth. I gave up a lot of ice creams and candies and things of that nature. I felt like it helped me tremendously.
On NABC Good Works Team
B/R: What impressed you most about the community-related contributions made by those being honored? Were there any contributions in particular that stood out during this process?
GH: Quite honestly, I was surprised at how many great stories there were. I was one of the voting panelists for the Allstate NABC Good Works Team, and [there were] just amazing stories. I was just impressed with the amount of nominees—117 of them from various schools across the country. Just seeing these student-athletes who get it and understand what it's all about. That was most impressive.
It was difficult; it was hard. We went through and I was part of narrowing it down. There were some high-profile programs, too. We had Division I, Division II and III and the NAIA, kids from all different types of programs just understanding what it's all about and why it's important.
Personally speaking, my time in college was my first introduction to giving back, doing things in the community. We did a lot of that at Duke. It's something that stuck with me as an impressionable kid to be able to see the impact you can have and how important it is to do things like that. I'm excited these kids get to see it as well. They understand it. That was very, very eye-opening on my part. It's a good thing. It's a good message.
I think just the amount of kids and what exactly they're doing, and the fact that they get it, is very, very impressive.
On Student-Athlete Responsibilities
B/R: What do you think being named to All-State’s NABC Good Works Team says about the student-athletes, what with their ability to balance academics and sports while making contributions to their communities?
GH: I guess it says they're pretty good at their time management. I think certainly having been a student-athlete myself, there is a huge responsibility in the classroom, with making sure you can continue to compete in the classroom and do what's necessary to fulfill academic requirements.
Then of course, being a student-athlete, it's not a full-time job, but there's certainly requirements there [in athletics] physically, mentally and emotionally. And everyone has a bit of a social life, some greater than others. So that, and then the opportunity to go and do good works, such as these nominees [did].
I think in college you learn to really manage your time. Sometimes I look back and I don't know how I did it. I think it speaks volumes. These kids, who have a lot on their plate, are still carving out time to do good works in their community and have a positive impact on those in their community. It's pretty remarkable, and it shows you that even teenagers and young adults get it. And that's a good thing.
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