Grant Hill played in the NBA from 1994 to 2013, which means most of his career overlapped with that of Kobe Bryant. Hill’s memories and impressions of the 37-year-old Mamba, who has announced that he will retire after this season, are similar to many others who played in this era: Bryant was super talented, super competitive and had a strong work ethic.
“I vividly remember years ago back in the ’90s – maybe 1997, 1998 – I was at UCLA’s men’s gym, and I went in there to get some shots up and he was in there,” Hill recalled said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “We were the only ones in there and we played some one-on-one. It was July – in the summer. But the intensity was pretty remarkable, and he was a young kid at that time. He was maybe 20 years old, and that just impressed me – just, okay, this kid, no matter what, he’s playing at a championship-level. So yeah, he’s got some great moments. He sort of embodies this particular generation and his time in the league in terms of his spirit, his style, his success. I think he deserves to sort of go out this season where everyone can recognize and appreciate his accomplishments and his career.”
With 17 All-Star appearances, five NBA titles and two Finals MVPs, Bryant is one of the most decorated players in NBA history. But he is also one of the most polarizing. In fact, the Lakers have struggled to attract marquee free agents in recent years.
Is it safe to say that Bryant’s overbearing nature was a part of that?
“Well, I think maybe in recent years,” Hill said. “I think a lot of that has to do with his age, his injuries, sort of where exactly is the Laker organization? Are they in rebuilding mode? Do they still have one last crack at it? So yeah, they’ve had cap space the last couple of years and have been unable to sign a big-time free agent, which is very much unheard of for a franchise that’s had so much success. But I think a lot of that has to do with the injures of Kobe, some of the moves that the organization has made, the coaches – I think a lot of that is in recent years. I don’t think when they were wining championships and contending (that it was a problem).
I don’t know if they had the cap space to sign big-time free agents when Kobe and Shaq were there together, and of course when Kobe and Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom (were there), I think that was a desirable destination place. I remember Gary Payton and Karl Malone taking less money to go there in 2003, 2004. So I think a lot of that is attributed to just the recent lack of success and lack of health for the Lakers and Kobe Bryant.”
Gregg Giannotti, for one, loves Bryant and has loved watching him over the years. But he’s also heard that Bryant is a bit of a jerk and his personality is off-putting.
Is that true?
“Look, Kobe away from the court, I think, is a real nice guy,” Hill said. “I don’t know him that well, but the interactions I’ve had with him away from basketball – going back to when he was 19 years old and even as recently as last week – it’s always been good interactions. He’s a competitor. He is someone who demands excellence from himself and from those around him. And I think people who are successful in an industry, people who have done the unthinkable – whether it’s Kobe, whether it’s a Michael Jordan, whether it’s a Steve Jobs – I think they have a drive about them that is difficult for a lot of others to match. They can be demanding, they can be tough, and they can be off-putting at times.
“But it’s interesting,” Hill continued. “You saw in Philadelphia last night, the crowd there hated him for so many years, hated his success, hated maybe his entitled air about himself once he stepped on the court. But I think now that he’s coming to an end, there is a love fest and an appreciation. We all are attracted to success and to winners and Kobe has certainly been that. But it takes having sort of a jerk mindset to be great, and he did that and he was successful. He knew what he wanted, he went for it and he kind of grew up in front of us. I think through all the stuff he’s been through, he’s at a point now where he’s in a different place and he’s appreciated for what he’s done.”