Grant Hill's retirement leaves painful memories in Orlando

Grant Hill announced his retirement Saturday night after an injury-ravaged 19-year career in the NBA.

Central Florida wasn't impressed.

Hill -- one of the favorite piñatas for Orlando Magic fans -- once again felt the sting of their disgruntlement and disappointment.

"Surprised Grant Hill didn't hurt his ankle getting on that TNT stage," someone tweeted.

"Here's Grant Hill on [TV] now," a friend wrote on Facebook. "He should be wearing a ski mask the way he robbed the Tragic."

Oh, yes. The Great Hill Heist. Grant signed a $92.88-million contract with the Magic in August of 2000, part of a sign-and-trade deal that was supposed to bring Orlando back to NBA prominence after the jolting defection of Shaquille O'Neal in 1996.

Hill and another prized free agent, Tracy McGrady, were the shooting stars who would bring the sizzle back to the franchise. Hoop Dreams revisited.

Instead, it became the an ongoing episode of Grey's Anatomy, without the comedic hijinks.

Hill was still recovering from an ankle surgery when he visited Orlando in July of 2000, arriving here on crutches. It was an ominous sign to a horrible legacy of pain and torture here. Hill played in just four games in his first season, 14 in the second, 29 in the third and zero in the fourth season, part of a seven-year Magic legacy that included five left-ankle surgeries and a staph infection that could have killed him.

I suspect Hill would give back most of those millions just to have been able to play pain-free. When healthy, he was one of the premier players in the league, a slasher who could get to the rim in a hurry. Excellent passer. Tremendously high basketball IQ. And one of the classiest guys you'll ever meet.

The Magic were smitten with all of that, understandably, but the feel-good script blew up in their face.

The Magic sputtered without Hill. Coach Doc Rivers was fired in 2003. GM John Gabriel got caught in the crossfire too, and axed the same season.

Hill, the guy in street clothes on the Magic bench most nights, became the convenient scapegoat.

Rivers, Gabriel and Hill were all tethered together in the misery of failed expectations and stacks of medical records. The inevitable divorce with Hill became official in the summer of 2007, when Hill's contract expired.

Hill's ankle finally held up in Phoenix, a well-deserved career resurgence after all the suffering he endured.

Good for him.

What exactly do the disgruntleds want to blame him for?

Is he supposed to apologize for contracting MRSA, being hospitalized for a week, shaking so bad that orderlies had to hold him down at first, and then having to take intravenous antibiotics, as many as three times a day, for six months?

Should he have vetoed one of the surgeries designed to relieve pressure on his ankle by removing a wedge of bone from the heel?

Is he supposed to take back all those laps he swam at the RDV Sportsplex, grinding it out, trying to get healthy again?

Grant Hill did everything he possibly could to give the Magic a return on their investment, and his body betrayed him.

Professional sports is always an unforgiving beast. You are judged on your contributions on the field of play, and not on the energy you expend tying to mend a broken body.

Hill finally got some cosmic payback, in a good way, during his time in Phoenix, where he averaged 11.9 points in five seasons. Meticulous as always, he hired a macrobiotic chef and regularly saw an acupuncturist as part of the preventative medicine deal.

But Grant Hill 2.0 was never the same as the original, the guy who averaged 21.6 points in his first six NBA seasons while playing in Detroit.

There is much unfilled expectations here, and much regret. The Magic, and Hill, too, pushed away too hard, way too soon. Hill should have never been on the court at times during those first four years. Too much money, too much pressure.

"It may have been bad for my career," Hill once said of all the injuries, "but it was good for my development as a human being. In a weird way I'm glad it happened."

Hill obviously got over it and persevered. Anybody else still piling on should do the same.

Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com

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