There was no Twitter in 1994, and Grant Hill is glad now that was the case.
But there was satellite TV. And on many nights he got home, he would stay up to watch West Coast games, especially ones in which Glen Robinson and Jason Kidd were playing. Hill wasn’t fully focused on winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year — he was more concerned with helping the Detroit Pistons win — but that didn’t stop him from drawing some motivation from his fellow first-year pros.
“It was more like, ‘Oh, Big Dog went off for 30?’ or ‘J-Kidd had a triple-double? OK,’” Hill told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Glen and Jason pushed me. It fueled me when they had big games. But we also had this sense of pride that our class was good, and we wanted to be successful.”
The very top of the 1994 draft class was a memorable group, including Robinson, Kidd, Hill and Juwan Howard. Kidd and Hill were so close in the eyes of voters, they ended up tied for Rookie of the Year in 1995.
That’s an unlikely result for Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell this year, based on changes in the voting process. But while the conversation about the two standout rookies this season has spun a little toxic, Hill — who at 45 is now is a part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks as well as NBA analyst for Turner Sports — thinks it could be a net positive to have two players who have so much promise at the beginning of the careers.
While he and Kidd were the co-Rookies of the Year, he remembered being more galvanized by Robinson, who averaged nearly 22 points per game and played Hill’s position. The match-ups between those two were ferocious when the Pistons played Robinson’s Milwaukee Bucks.
“It was adversarial: He was trying to kill me, and I was trying to kill him,” Hill said. “I don’t remember as much media hype or anything as we have now, but we definitely kept tabs on one another.”
As for Mitchell, Hill has met him in passing a handful of times, dating back to some March Madness games. A few years ago, he talked about Mitchell with then-Louisville coach Rick Pitino about the athletic specimen with a high ceiling. But Hill has been surprised how Mitchell (20.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.7 apg) has adapted so quickly to the NBA game (and of course, he’s far from alone there).
He keeps tabs on him in part through Jazz assistant Antonio Lang, who was Hill’s college roommate at Duke.
“The way he’s developed and become a good two-way player, it’s a credit to his work ethic,” Hill said. “But he also seems like just a really nice kid, a very honest guy. I’ve been very impressed with how he’s handled himself. From Day 1, the Jazz have talked glowingly about his character.”
Even though it’s mathematically improbable, Hill hoped that Simmons and Mitchell would win co-Rookie of the Year, as he and Kidd did. Their relationship wasn’t so hard-edged: Hill didn’t consider it a disservice that he split the award with Kidd, whom he had gotten to know when they were both finalists for the Wooden Award in college, then both top-five picks in the NBA Draft.
Their careers remain linked to this day: Hill noted that both he and Kidd announced their retirements on the same weekend, and then — with more than a hint of pride — added they’ll both be entering the Hall of Fame in the same class.
“They’re both really good,” Hill said of Mitchell and Simmons. “I hope this competition is just in good fun. You get to appreciate these things later in life.”