Q&A: Grant Hill discusses newly released autobiography, upcoming book tour event at Duke

<p>Grant Hill will speak Wednesday evening at Duke about "Game," his new autobiography.</p>

Grant Hill will speak Wednesday evening at Duke about "Game," his new autobiography.

Before becoming the first Duke player to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Grant Hill played for the Blue Devils from 1990-94, playing a pivotal role in the program’s first two national championships as a freshman and sophomore. Now, after an illustrious 19-year NBA career, Hill remains connected to professional basketball as a broadcaster, Atlanta Hawks owner and the new USA Basketball Men's National Team managing director.

Wednesday evening, Hill returns to Duke, where he will join Blue Devil head coach Jon Scheyer in Page Auditorium at 6 p.m. as part of the book tour for his new memoir, “Game,” released Tuesday. The Chronicle spoke with Hill over the phone Tuesday about his book and his upcoming event on campus at Duke.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: Why did you feel that this was the right time to write your autobiography?

Grant Hill: I feel like you get to a certain age and you realize, “wow,” I’ve been fortunate to have a pretty interesting story, and I’m also comfortable sharing now at this point of my life. The different experiences, some of the insecurities, some of the challenges, so it just felt right. I think it really was sparked by the Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2018. I think that naturally puts you in a reflective mode, and we made it official with Penguin Press in 2020 and snap your fingers, here we are today. So I think the enshrinement really sparked it and I went through the process, which was very enlightening, and I actually probably learned a little bit about myself along the way, as crazy as that may sound.

TC: People often don’t get to see or necessarily understand the things that the professional athlete has to deal with to be successful, and you talk about some of those things in your book, like self-doubt and fear. How important was it for you to share those things and to dive into some of the tougher moments of your career?

GH: I think in general, fans in this day and age appreciate an inside account, and they want something special, they want to go deeper. And so, for me, whether it’s exploring the doubt and some of the challenges I have and ultimately overcoming those issues, particularly during my formative late-teens, early-adolescent stage in my life to life at Duke. 

We were there and there were some magical moments and giving a behind-the-scenes, inside account, maybe some perspective on some stuff that people had never heard, and also some tough, challenging moments, even during that incredible run that we had at Duke. What it’s like to be a young face of a franchise, one of the young faces of the league in the NBA. What it’s like to go through a coaching change, and the stress and the drama and some of that inside, behind-the-scenes account. The injury, all of that. I hope people can understand, maybe learn, maybe be inspired, but also maybe just have a better understanding of my journey and the ups and the downs and all the in-between that comes with that.

TC: You mentioned stories that people might not have heard before. You’ve been in the spotlight for a long time and you’ve built your brand, and there are definitely people who know a lot about your career. Is there any specific part of this book that is something that you feel like you are sharing for the very first time?

GH: Yeah, a lot. Some of my early struggles internally as it related to sports, as it related to just confidence in general. I think my injury, and that ordeal and the drama surrounding that. Certainly, everybody who at least follows sports knows about that, but I don’t think they understood in detail what exactly transpired. So, to be able to share that, I think some of the personal relationship-wise, and my wife and that whole meeting and courtship and falling in love and getting married, and then some of our collective, joint health issues, and how we were going through some of that together. It sounds even crazy saying it, I’ve been a public figure, I guess since I was 18. College and the visibility that the program had then and has now and playing for 19 years and still, now, in various roles and jobs that I’m involved in. 

So there’s a lot about me that I think people knew, but there was a lot that a lot of people didn’t know. Even friends of mine, or even people who I grew up with or have become almost lifelong friends, have shared with me, “I didn’t realize that,” or, “I didn’t know that.” So, to take off the mask and just let it all hang out, literally and figuratively.... You hopefully get to know and learn more about who I am and how I've become who I am today.

TC: You use the word “therapeutic” to describe writing your book. How special was the whole process, going back through your career and your life to write this?

GH: Therapeutic is one thing, I think it was enlightening, I think it was challenging at times. There were a lot of feelings that went into the process. You live life and a lot happens, and you don’t take the time to really at times either celebrate or process things while they’re happening. So, the exercise of writing the book and going back and really living in that moment and trying to understand what I was thinking at 15. Who was I? Eighteen, 25, different stages, and you see sort of this evolution, this growth, this maturation. It’s a lot of things, but there’s a therapeutic element to it, there’s an incredibly difficult and challenging one. 

It’s challenging either trying to remember certain things or having to confront yourself and certain things that maybe you subconsciously suppressed. For a second here, just forget about the book, although don’t forget about the book: For a second here, just the exercise of going through that and seeing the totality of your life and who you are. I think everybody should do that. I don’t know if everybody is going to get published, but I think just you gain a greater appreciation and understanding and ultimately respect for your life and what you’ve been through. I didn’t know what to expect, but I learned a lot and I’m grateful for going through the process.

TC: Duke and Durham both play a big role in the story you tell. What’s it going to be like speaking about the book to those communities Wednesday?

GH: That was an incredible time in my life. You go off to school and we all experience this, you grow, you become independent, you become a man or a woman. And those years are so critical to just your overall development and maturation. Those were some magical moments in the grand scheme of things, at least in the story of Duke basketball and Duke basketball history. I would imagine that most of the conversation will center around my time when I was at Duke, but look, that’s home, and I’m always recharged, reenergized when I’m back on campus. It just reminds me, like most former Dukies and I would imagine any alum at their alma mater, it just conjures up those life-changing experiences as a college student. But I look forward to that, I’m really excited. 

We’re on campus, in Page Auditorium. I’ve done a few panel discussions at Page, but I’ll tell you, even as a mini-celebrity at moments when I was at Duke and the success we had, I don’t know if I ever thought I’d come back and have a book and have a discussion about my book in Page Auditorium. So, I’m really looking forward to that and really excited, and to see some familiar faces and people who I’ve known on this journey who played a role while I was a student-athlete and later on, it’s going to be fun.

TC: Coach K is another important figure in your book. Wednesday evening, you’re going to be talking to his successor. How do you see the torch being passed here at Duke, now that you’re about to sit down with the program’s new head coach?

GH: Succession is always important, particularly when the stakes are high and everyone is accustomed to success like we’ve had. I’ve really enjoyed this past year, getting to know Jon. I knew Jon, let me just preface, as a member of the Brotherhood and as a member of the coaching staff, but I didn’t play with Jon, and Jon is younger, obviously, than I am. To have been back on campus, to try to be a resource to him.... I think he’s a great communicator. I think he has a real vision for what he wants to accomplish with the program. There’s a real sense of the changing landscape in intercollegiate athletics. 

I have a family friend whose son, Jon has recruited, and he’s committed to Duke, Sean Stewart. I’ve known Sean since he was born and he’s like a family member, and to hear Sean, but also his parents, talk about the recruiting process and talk about Scheyer and his staff—and these are like best friends of ours, my family—just really impressed with how he’s done that. So, it’ll be different. No one can fill Coach K’s shoes or replace him, but I think Jon is going to do a good job. He’s recruited well and I think he’s up for the challenge. So, there’s a real excitement within the Brotherhood, within the Duke basketball community, for this next iteration of Duke basketball led by Jon Scheyer.

TC: There definitely is a lot of excitement about it.

GH: It’ll be weird. Most of my contemporaries, when they go back to their alma mater, they’ve had four, five, six, seven, eight different coaches over the last 25-plus years. All I ever knew is Coach K. It’s going to be a little weird watching games and not seeing him roaming the sidelines, I will admit that. But Jon, I am excited for him. You knew the end was going to come at some point for K, and he had an incredible run, but we’re hoping Jon can keep it going a little bit and at least allow us to have success as we go forward.

TC: An important part of your path has been building a brand, and that feels more important than ever in college today. Just this morning, Duke hired a general manager for the first time, Rachel Baker, to help manage NIL. Do you think that the way things are today presents new challenges or opportunities, or do you think it might have changed the way your career unfolded?

GH: It was a different time, different era. I know I mentioned in the book that my handlers were telling me before my rookie year that I had a chance to be a brand, and I honestly didn’t even know what that meant. I knew what a brand was, but I didn’t think that was an individual. I think now everybody is aware and is conscious of being a brand—and even those who don’t play—I think everyone thinks they’re a brand. The landscape has changed and is continuing to change and evolve, and I think it’s smart. It’s smart of Jon, it’s smart of all… to embrace that change and hopefully be able to be in a position to leverage that for these student-athletes. 

We had a great run, we had a great journey, I wouldn’t change it for anything. But sometimes I do wish that maybe there was NIL back in the early ‘90s. We had great success, obviously, we were highly visible. It’s an opportunity that these kids and these student-athletes in all sports have to leverage their name, image and likeness, as they should. It’s an exciting time, it’s a little bit scary because there are a lot of unknowns, but I think overall that will get, as they say in the old cliche, worked out in the wash. I think we’ll all figure that out, and I think that’s a good, smart, proactive move by Scheyer to hire Rachel.

TC: Your career seems to be far from over. What’s next for you? Should we expect a sequel to this memoir down the line?

GH: I’m giving myself 20 years. No, I’m joking. I don’t know, like I said, I still have a lot that I want to do and accomplish, and I still feel like, maybe foolishly, that the best years are yet to come. They may be in a different way, who knows? But hopefully, I will feel compelled enough to share the next half, the next part of my life. I’m definitely reflective, I’m appreciative for what’s happened, but I’m also very, very excited about what’s next.

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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