Jason Kidd, Grant Hill: Old acquaintances who won't be forgotten
Jason Kidd and Grant Hill stood back-to-back, with smiles on their faces and NBA co-Rookie of the Year trophies in their hands. The room lit up with the flash of a camera nearly as bright as the futures awaiting them.
Almost 18 years, and many games, have passed since then. But spare Kidd and Hill those unflattering, age-related puns.
He's not a Kidd anymore.
He's over the Hill.
There's no better reminder of the time gone by and the link that forever unites them than the picture of a pair of 22-year-olds taken on that spring day in 1995.
Hill sat in the visiting locker room last Sunday after the Clippers' loss to the Celtics in Boston, his right knee heavily wrapped and his left ankle soaking in a bucket of ice water. He stared intently at the picture before laughing. "That,'' he said, "was another lifetime.''
Kidd dressed at his locker at Madison Square Garden after the Knicks defeated the Pistons Monday night, the crew cut in the photo long gone. As he gazed down at the picture, a slight smile formed. "That,'' he said, "was a long time ago.''
It's symbolic that Kidd and Hill, who will face each other Sunday when the Knicks host the Clippers, are positioned back- to-back in the photo.
They were drafted back-to- back in 1994, Kidd by Dallas with the second overall pick and Hill by Detroit with the third. Now they're back-to-back on the list of oldest players in the NBA, Hill being the second-oldest at 40 and Kidd the third-oldest at 39.
There's no truer testament to their longevity than a freshman forward playing for Michigan. Next season, Kidd and Hill could be playing with Glenn Robinson III. His dad is Glenn Robinson -- the only player picked ahead of them.
"That's crazy,'' Hill said. "Things like that are around to remind me of how old I really am.''
Said Kidd: "Oh, that means it's time to get out.''
"That will definitely make my dad feel a little old,'' said Robinson, whose father retired in 2005. "To be able to play with those two and share some moments with them like he probably had would be exciting.''
The paths of Hill and Kidd first crossed in high school at a Nike camp in 1989. "Jason shot the ball a lot back then,'' Hill joked. "He shot too much.''
It was Kidd's shot in the second round of the 1993 NCAA Tournament that helped California upset Hill and two-time defending champion Duke. Kidd's off-balance layup and free throw -- he was fouled by Hill -- with 1:11 left gave Cal a two-point lead.
Going back in time
Knowing what Kidd now knows, what advice would he give to the 22-year-old in the picture? "Concentrate on shooting the ball a little bit more instead of passing it,'' he said.
Odd advice for a distributor who recorded his 12,000th career assist Friday night, becoming the only player other than John Stockton to do so.
As a rookie with the Mavericks, Kidd joined Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn to form "The Three J's.'' He had his best seasons in Phoenix and New Jersey, leading the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. He returned to Dallas and won his first NBA championship in 2011.
"I don't think people realize how quick and fast he was,'' Hill said of Kidd. "He had a nose for the ball. Obviously, there was his passing. But defensively, he disrupted things and made things difficult.''
Kidd no longer is the player who amassed 107 triple-doubles (only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson have more). But even while playing limited minutes and averaging 7.5 points and 3.7 assists, he remains an integral player for the Knicks.
"His voice means more than anything,'' Knicks point guard Raymond Felton said. "Just watching him, listening to him, he's made the game easier for me. He's one of the greatest point guards to play this game. That speaks for itself.''
Hill instantly became one of the faces of the NBA, earning sponsorship deals with Fila and Sprite. As a versatile point forward and dynamic scorer, he recorded all 29 of his triple-doubles, ninth all-time, during his first five seasons.
"He had an extremely quick first step, a quick pull-up,'' Kidd said of Hill. "When he was piling up triple-doubles, I would look at the newspaper to see what he did the night before and see what I had to do to keep pace.''
Injuries then robbed Hill not only of his all-around ability but of a potential Hall of Fame career.
Which is why Hill's advice to his younger self had a regretful tone, haunted by "what if?''
"If your ankle ever hurts,'' he said, "sit down and rest, regardless of what anybody tells you.''
Hill began having left ankle problems late in the 1999-00 season but continued to play, he said, with a doctor's permission. During the Pistons' first-round playoff series, he broke the ankle and required surgery. That summer he signed with Orlando, returned from the injury too soon -- he had four additional ankle surgeries after the first one -- and missed 374 of 574 games in the next seven seasons.
Then he became a productive and healthy role player with Phoenix for five seasons. He joined the Clippers this past offseason and missed the first 36 games while recovering from knee surgery. He's averaging 4.3 points in 16.6 minutes per game, but his teammates still see flashes.
"He's 40 years old and he's not just in the NBA, but he's still able to beat just about everybody,'' said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who said he occasionally plays Hill one-on-one in practice. "It's his determination, his passion, his commitment to the game. He brings veteran leadership and a confidence. But, man, sometimes I wish I could turn back the hands of time.''
The hands of time will continue going around the clock during Sunday's game. The three oldest players in the league -- Kidd, Hill and Knicks forward Kurt Thomas, older than Hill by one day -- will be in uniform. "To be out there with some guys my age will definitely help,'' Thomas joked.
It will be the 31st time Kidd and Hill play against one another in the NBA. Even when their careers finally do come to an end, the link they share will not.
"You can't ask for a better compliment,'' Kidd said of his link with Hill. "We both probably still look all right on the outside. But the inside is the most important part, and we both have got a little bit older and might not move as fast. But we both still love the competition.''
Said Hill: "Being linked to Mr. Kidd is an honor. There's a great friendship and great respect that we have for each other. We go way, way back. There's a lot of memories, a lot of experiences. We came in together and maybe we'll leave together.''