Bleacher Report's Matt Petersen spoke on the phone early Monday morning with Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill. Hill was in New York making appearances in conjunction with the Stop MRSA Now Coalition, the Clorox Company, and SwapMeSports.com. Hill spoke briefly about his harrowing experience with the disease as well as basketball related topics.
After the Shawn Marion trade, I was certain the Suns would have a big hole in the perimeter defender department. Then I watched a then-35-year-old Grant Hill step into that role.
He wasn't as electrifying as Marion, but in his own dignified, fundamental way, he was just as effective. Sometimes moreso.
Hill turned 37 last season, and continued to defiantly guard studs 15 years his junior. He gained a reputation as a stalwart defender, a stopper assigned to guard the opposition's most dangerous weapon.
After speaking with Hill Monday morning, I'm no longer surprised. For him, stopping a 22-year-old scoring machine must be a cakewalk after what he's been through.
Hill is a survivor of the lethal Staph infection MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a disease that threatened not only his career, but his life in 2003. The infection kills more people in the United States than AIDS.
When Hill was originally diagnosed, information on MRSA was scarce. The lack of general information both angered and motivated him.
"I had a MRSA infection on my ankle," Hill said. "At the time I had never heard of MRSA. I didn't really know a whole lot about it. It really scared me. I'm lucky to be able to sit here now and talk about it with you."
Much like Magic Johnson has done since he was diagnosed with HIV in the early 1990s, Hill made, and is making, a concerted effort to inform the public about the dangers of MRSA and what they can do to prevent it from happening.
"As a result of going through that, and being a parent myself and having young children, I want to try to work hard to educate people on what exactly MRSA is and what exactly it can do," Hill said. "What it can do is it can kill you."
If you ever followed Grant Hill as a player, the "helping other people" thing doesn't surprise you. That's what's so refreshing about him—he's a sincerely and passionately devoted guy, both on and off the floor.
When he learns something, he shares it. With the Suns, it's his basketball IQ he willingly imparts to guys like Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic. He'll probably do the same with Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress, and Gani Lawal this season.
Off the court, it's the same process. Hill learned about MRSA. Unfortunately for him, he learned the hard way. He found out it can be contracted in bathrooms, locker rooms, classrooms. Instead of chilling his offseason away, he's trying, almost desperately, to pass this knowledge on.
"As an athlete and a parent, I've got kids who are in school," Hill said. "I think it's important to educate and inform."
Twice, Hill avidly mentioned stopmrsanow.org, a website disclosing the causes of and preventions against MRSA. It also contains stories of MRSA victims. Some, like Hill, are high-profile. Others are everyday people. That's why Hill is so adamant about this particular mission. It can, as he well knows, affect anyone at anytime.
Hill was kind enough to talk about NBA topics, but the conversation always managed to avoid the individuality sports conversation promotes.
When I asked Hill about his initial reaction to the Suns' basically letting Amare go and signing Hedo Turkoglu, he insisted the Turkish star didn't deserve all the pressure.
"We're happy and excited about the new guys," Hills said. "Obviously, everyone looks at Hedo-for-Amare, but there's 11 guys that have come in as well. Hakim Warrick. Gani Lawal...If you think one guy is going to replace Amare, it's a little foolish to think that way."
I asked Hill for his thoughts about LeBron's "Decision." Why? Hill made a similar choice ten years ago, leaving the team that drafted him, that had its hopes pinned on him, for a Florida team (Orland) and an All-Star (Tracy McGrady) for a teammate.
Again, his answer wasn't on the individual, but the guys surrounding him.
"I mean, I didn't win 60-plus games and have the best record in the league," Hill admitted. "I don't know if I had had those experiences, I would've left Detroit."
Grant Hill followed that up with an honest assessment.
"I'm glad those guys are in the East."
Finally, I brought up his career, which is a great story in and of itself. People, especially younger fans, don't remember how good Hill was in the mid- and late-'90s. He was slighter version of LeBron, really—a do-it-all small forward who had an answer for everything and for whom nobody had an answer.
Now he's a role player. Highly respected, but still, a role player. That's quite a fall.
I asked him what he thought, even wanted, of his legacy when his career is over.
"I don't think about that," Hill said (honestly, I might add). "I just want to go out there and have fun. I want to do the best I can and let everyone else worry about legacies."
If you listen to the podcast of the interview, you'll notice he says the word "legacies" with discernible disdain. Translation: Hill really doesn't care about that stuff.
Maybe it's because being able to "go out there and have fun" is something that was almost taken away from him. Maybe that's why he wants people to realize how they take care of, how they treat value themselves, is more important than what others think of them.
Even early in his career, Hill never seemed like a me-first guy. He didn't necessarily need MRSA to kick-start him into selfless service. Just like he doesn't need a guy 15 years younger trying to beat him up.
But he takes on the assignment anyway. He defended it individually, and is trying to instill a team defense against MRSA by teaching people about it. If we admire Hill for that on the court, maybe we should off of it as well.
Now's a good time to start. Visit http://www.stopmrsanow.org.