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Wise Guys
Phil Taylor
April 24, 1995
With the sage counsel of Joe Dumars, Detroit's Grant Hill is the top NBA rookie
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April 24, 1995

Wise Guys

With the sage counsel of Joe Dumars, Detroit's Grant Hill is the top NBA rookie

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21.7 points, 6.4 rebounds

Top scorer among rookies; double-teamed more than any other

Criticism of media—"They don't know basketball"—is bad strategy

Alienated many by requesting a $100 million contract


7.7 assists, 11.5 points, 146 steals

Rookie steals leader; three recent triple doubles

Poor jump shot, though improving steadily

Donated $46,000 for Dallas inner-city basketball court


19.6 points, 6.2 rebounds

Remarkable versatility, acrobatic moves and Mr. Nice Guy image

Midseason lull after fast start, although he has played well lately

His piano performance on "Late Show with David Letterman"


16.6 points, 8.3 rebounds

Consistency. Scored in double figures in 46 straight games

Late start because of holdout; recent injury problems; woeful team

Chosen NBA Rookie of the Month in February


13.1 points, 7.5 rebounds

Tough inside force who helped transform previously soft Kings

Low visibility; needs front-runners to split the vote in order to win

Paid for funeral of Sacramento teen who was murdered by her foster father


10.2 points, 7.4 rebounds

The Al Gore of rookies—not flashy, even a bit stiff, but still effective

Not a great shot-blocker for a 7-footer

Whacked by Shaq. Their February fracas earned O'Neal a suspension


14.4 points, 3.9 rebounds

Fluid style a perfect fit for the fast-paced Lakers

Missed valuable campaign time with a shoulder sprain

MVP of the Rookie All-Star Game, a key midseason primary


10.4 points; 42.8 3-point FG pct.

Marksmanship: the best outside shooter among rookies

Less playing time with the loaded Suns than rookies on lesser teams

Beat big brother Chuck in All-Star Weekend shooting contest

They do not need each other. They would never say that, and perhaps they do not even see it that way. But it is true, and that is the beauty of their relationship. The rookie could survive without the veteran's guidance, because the young man is wise beyond his years. He is the son of Yale and Wellesley graduates who raised him to take his place among the best and the brightest. College presidents and U.S. senators have been among his counselors, and now he has legions of advisers, including a management company, an attorney, even an executive assistant who is a Harvard graduate. The rookie does not need a mentor.

The veteran does not need a protégé. He has two championship rings and the kind of universal respect from fans, reporters and his fellow players that athletes rarely command anymore. He could have used his elder-statesman status like a recliner and simply relaxed in it, picking up his paycheck from his $13.5 million, four-year contract. Or he could have been like so many other veterans on mediocre teams and pushed for a trade to a contender. He did not need to take such an active role in the education of this or any other rookie.

But here they are, drawing from each other and giving something in return. Two lesser men might have spun off into their own orbits, but not this pair, rookie forward Grant Hill and veteran guard Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons. Their bond is based not on need but on mutual appreciation.

"Each guy knows what he has in the other," says Billy McKinney, Piston vice president of basketball operations. "Grant sees that Joe is this incredible source of wisdom and support, and Joe sees that Grant is a young player with his head on straight, a player on whom he can have a positive effect. I think Joe looks at Grant and sees himself as a young player, and Grant looks at Joe and sees the kind of player he wants to be."

This is the way it is supposed to work, but the way it too rarely does in today's NBA. There is a generation gap in the league, with veterans on one side of the chasm shouting that the attitudes of certain young players have been warped by early, easy-money, and the new generation screaming back that many of the older players are jealous and out-of-touch. Both groups could look at the bond between Hill and Dumars and learn how to bridge that gap.

"When you're a rookie, and you're lucky enough for Joe Dumars to take an interest in you, you're not too smart if you don't take advantage of it," Hill says.

"With all Grant has going for himself, he didn't have to listen to me," Dumars says. "But he does. He doesn't just hear, he listens."

It was a March morning after Detroit's 107-97 loss to the New York Knicks. At that point the Pistons were still struggling to stay in the race for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff berth (they were eventually eliminated, and through Sunday their record was 27-51). Hill, who had scored 26 points, was sitting beside Dumars in the training room with an ice bag on his ribs, the result of a meeting with Knick strongman forward Charles Oakley. "I was going down the lane, and I got the foul, but he got me with a little hip just after the whistle," he told Dumars.

"You have to watch that," replied Dumars, who had scored 13. "Guys hear that whistle and they know they have a free shot. Patrick [Ewing] almost did the same kind of thing to me last night, but I saw it coming. When you hear that whistle, that's when you have to protect yourself the most."

It is in these quiet moments that the nature of the relationship between Hill and Dumars is most evident. Their relationship is like the players themselves—subtle and understated. "It's not based on anything that 21,000 people in the stands are going to see," says Dumars. "It's just a word or two here or there. You don't need a sledgehammer with Grant, just a chisel."

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