Hill has been famous for more than two decades and never generated a whiff of controversy. Growing up in Washington, D.C., he remembers the scandals involving presidential candidate Gary Hart and D.C. mayor Marion Barry, and his mother, Janet Hill, warning him, "Don't fear failure. Success ruins more people."
But even Hill, preternaturally cool, needed time to assuage the bitterness that built up in him in Orlando. "It was hard for me to go to work there every day and be around people who I felt failed me," he says. "Even now, that arena has a lot of dark memories for me." He pauses for a moment, remembering that he might be stepping back into that arena in a couple of weeks for the NBA Finals. "I might have to get over that pretty soon," he says.
Hill arrived in Phoenix three years ago, for the cut rate of $1.9 million per season, and the day he signed his contract he went through a 2½-hour physical assessment with the Suns' renowned medical staff. On the drive back to his hotel he nearly broke down at the wheel, overwhelmed by the care he finally felt he was getting. Last summer Hill had a chance to sign with the Knicks for more money and the Celtics for what seemed like a better chance at a championship, but he re-upped with the Suns in part for their trainers.
Hill has hired a macrobiotic chef, sees an acupuncturist and has bought into the Suns' innovative corrective-exercise program, in which every player is assessed daily and given exercises to address physical imbalances. Last season Hill played all 82 games for the first time. This season he played 81. Others can hog the points and rebounds—to Hill, minutes are the metric that matters most. Each is an unexpected gift.
He prefers to reflect on what the ankle gave him rather than what it took away. It gave him a more thorough knowledge of medicine and the mechanics of movement. It gave him a basis from which to counsel young players such as Jameer Nelson of the Magic and Shaun Livingston of the Wizards through injuries. It put to rest the myth of his perfect life. "It may have been bad for my career," Hill says, "but it was good for my development as a human being. In a weird way I'm glad it happened."
When Hill went to Phoenix, he expected to be retiring around 2010. Instead he has reinvented himself as a player and won a long-awaited turn in the spotlight. He can see himself playing another three years. Political office, which Obama suggested he consider after Hill introduced him at a fund-raiser, can wait. Kobe Bryant cannot.
This is the ultimate challenge in a career defined by them. Hill has seen Bryant enough to know what's coming: the killer crossover, the clever up-and-under, the maddening fadeaway just over everybody's fingertips. "The key is not getting discouraged," Hill says. "You can't ever get discouraged."
That happens to be his forte.
Now on SI.com
Stay on top of all the action with Fast Break after each game at SI.com/nba