Grant Hill, as you may have heard somewhere along the way, drinks Sprite.
Or at least he did in the midst of a Hall-of-Fame NBA career that spanned two decades, and would have been even more spectacular had it not been for serious injuries that kept Hill sidelined for several seasons. A four-year player at Duke who went to three Final Fours and won two national championships during his time in Durham, the 49-year-old is getting ready to provide analysis and insight as part of the top college basketball broadcast team at CBS while the Blue Devils make their way through the NCAA Tournament.
As Duke and the rest of the field of 64 try to make their way to New Orleans for the Final Four, Hill will be right there with them and staying with Marriott Bonvoy, which is celebrating its sixth year as the official hotel partner of the NCAA and offering hoops fans exclusive experiences, along the way. The NABC Defensive Player of the Year in ’93 and unanimous first-team All-American in ’94, Hill will also be ordering lots of room service.
“I played 19 years in the NBA. A season is 82 games and 41 of them are on the road so you’re in hotels a lot. So I love food and I love room service,” Hill tells InsideHook. “A good room service dining experience is something that I enjoy. If they have a good burger, a good steak, even salmon, I’m good. I’m easy to please. It’s just the idea of sitting at the end of my bed and eating on a tray on a cart. Sometimes I don’t even roll it out. I’ll just leave it there and lie back and go to sleep. The thought of that, it’s genius. The 12-year-old in me is still excited about eating room service. It might be odd, might be weird, but that’s the truth. It’s the best.”
Hill, who uses Rimowa suitcases and Thule bags when he travels alone or with his family (“I don’t even want to say how many pieces of luggage we have”), fell in love with something he treasures more than room service before he made it to the NBA or Duke.
“I fell in love with basketball watching the NCAA tournament,” he says. “It’s a funny story. Growing up, we had a basement in our home that was undeveloped. In the winter of ’81, my dad decided to redo the basement. He put in carpet, a pool table, a bar and one of those projection TVs with three screens. This was old-school. We did that and we bought a Betamax. The first thing we taped was the Final Four, North Carolina versus Georgetown. I watched that game over and over again. That’s when I began to fall in love, become passionate and dream that maybe one day I might get a chance to play in the tournament.”
A little more than a decade later, Hill’s dream of playing in the tournament came true with the help of his teammates and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Now, 30 years later, Hill will be back at the tournament as a broadcaster and help usher retiring Coach K out of the Big Dance, possibly as a champion for the sixth time.
“For 42 years, Coach K has really been the face of college basketball. He’s one of the great coaches, great leaders and great teachers,” Hill says. “I was there in Cameron Indoor Stadium [for Krzyzewski’s last home game] and it was incredible. It was a celebration, but it was bittersweet. Sweet in the sense that here’s this legendary figure who has a chance to go out on his own terms and be celebrated, as he should be, and bitter just because you don’t want to see him go. He’s been an instrumental part of the Duke basketball family, the college basketball scene and basketball globally. I’m happy for him and happy I was able to play a really small part in his overall legacy.
“Hopefully, they can win this year,” he adds. “They have the pieces, the coaching and the know-how. The team has a realistic chance, although it’s so hard. You can’t have a bad game or a bad moment in this tournament. It’s so difficult to get to the end and ultimately win.”
But, whether Duke loses their first-round matchup against Cal State Fullerton on Friday or makes it all the way to the championship game in NOLA in April, Hill is looking forward to being part of the madness of March yet again.
“Even though now I’m walking through the loading dock and going to a dressing room instead of the locker room, there are a lot of the same feelings and emotions,” he says. “Sitting there courtside, we stand for the national anthem and see all the coaches and the players…You feel like you’re about to play. You have that same sort of excitement, nervousness and anxiety. It’s all the emotions going through you that you felt when you played in the tournament. Then once the ball’s tossed, you get lost in the game.
“I want to be mindful of what’s happening right now in the world and the sensitivities around that, particularly in Ukraine, but as a history major at Duke I learned the ancient Greeks would halt wars in the years of the Olympics,” he muses. “They did that because they understood the power of sport and understood that sport speaks to us. Fast forward that to today and the NCAA Tournament. It inspires. I’ve seen it evolve and grow. It’s special, it’s unique. It’s one of a kind, it really is. It’s madness.”