Hill says he learned his new style--think of a power pitcher suddenly relying on splitters and changeups--from watching Jordan become a more efficient player by using angles and improving his jump shot. "He got crafty as he got older," Hill says of Jordan. He smiles. "I like crafty."
Crafty or not, what is striking about Hill is the way he moves. On back-to-back plays against Portland he raced out and got behind Abdur-Rahim for layups. Against Indiana four nights earlier he sprinted the length of the floor to intercept a pass and, in the same motion, passed the ball behind his back to a trailing teammate to start a fast break, a play so beautifully timed that it looked choreographed. True, Hill can't really jump yet--it's weird to see him rooted to the floor as opponents sky for rebounds--but levitation is one of many gifts he's on his way to regaining, along with explosiveness, lateral movement, and the ability to quick-jump for rebounds and front in the post. "It's like an onion," he says. "I'm peeling back the layers as I rediscover my game."
In large part because of Hill's play, the Magic is being touted as a contender in the Eastern Conference. This adds a nice element to the Return of Grant saga, but there's one problem: It's not quite true. The team has a nice young mix with rookie forward Dwight Howard, point guard Steve Francis and swingmen Hedo Turkoglu and Cuttino Mobley, but there's not enough depth and experience for Orlando to be an elite team. That much is evident whenever Hill goes out of the game; suddenly the offense grinds to a halt. Still, compared with last season's, it is a vastly improved squad, largely because of Hill's unexpected presence.
Which brings us back to the question: What is it that drove a man knocked down so many times to get back up again? After thinking for a second, Hill lists a couple of reasons: He felt he could still compete. He had unfinished business. Then he stops, and a grin creeps across his face. "But the main thing is, I just love to play," he says. "I'm sure when I'm retired many years from now, I'll be playing at the YMCA. I just love basketball."
And there you have it, that most refreshing of motivations in today's NBA: a player doing something purely for love.
A great story indeed.