Forget about Kobe Bryant's 61 points in Madison Square Garden or LeBron's 52 point outburst just two days later that may or may not have been part of a triple double. The NBA's most amazing stat of the year involves Grant Hill.
Now, I'm not very good at math. Okay, I'm terrible. When I arrived at Duke as a freshman, when Hill was a junior, I stayed as far away from the math department as possible. But you don't need to be a statistician to understand the following:
At age 36, Hill is the seventh oldest player in the league, yet he did not miss a single regular season game.
That's not impressive. It's remarkable.
Grant Hill played in all 82 regular season games this season, for the first time in his oft-injured 13-year-career, while averaging an amazing 30 minutes per game.
A little research reveals that only 29 other players, equaling one per team, accomplished the same feat. Their average age: 25-years-old.
Did I mention that Hill is 36?
Larry Bird retired at 35. Isiah Thomas retired at 33. Michael Jordan retired at 30. And 35. And 40. Okay, bad example. To put it another way, Grant Hill is the same age as Bill Buckner when the ball dribbled through his rickety legs in the 1986 World Series.
"I feel better than I felt four or five years ago," Hill says.
Which raises a question:
How does a 36-year-old man play in all 82 regular season games and do it in style, finishing his final game with 27 points, 10 board, 5 assists, four steals and a block?
If I were hoping, I'd say that Grant Hill is an Outlier, straight from the pages of Malcolm Gladwell, but if I were betting, well, you get the idea...
I don't like to think about Grant Hill taking HGH, or whatever else, because he's always been one of my favorite Blue Devils. I say that because some people might think it's unfair for me to the raise the performance-enhancing drugs issue with a guy like Hill. I don't know. But I do know that my friends and I sit around and talk about stuff like this.
Maybe ESPN doesn't, but we do.
If some ESPN personality did delicately broach the issue, it would probably go something like this, "At age 36, Grant Hill is much older than guys like Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, yet he's played in fewer games, which means less wear and tear and explains his longevity."
It should also be mentioned, stressed even, that Grant Hill is universally beloved. He's a classy guy. He plays the piano. He plays the piano!
It annoys me when sportswriters describe an athlete by saying, "You'll never meet a nicer guy." I don't know how many times people have opined about Hill's niceness, but I'm guessing that it's come up quite a bit. And you know what? I'm okay with that.
I've been following Hill's career for the past 17 years and he really does seem like a genuine good guy. He has a seemingly nice wife and well-respected parents. Whether or not he takes performance enhancing drugs wouldn't change the fact that I like him.
America likes him too. He received more All-Star votes than Michael Jordan in 1996, and deservedly so. He was, at the time, one of the best basketball players on the planet. Was.
He's had five ankle surgeries and nearly died of a staph infection during one operation. He's also battled knee, groin and hernia problems. At one point he played in only 200 regular season games over a 7 season period.
Fast forward to last week when the Phoenix Suns celebrated Hill's 82nd game with cupcakes.
Since then more than a few sportswriters have congratulated Hill with "Wow!" but not a single one has written "How?" Maybe they've seen too many of the league's new promos that say "Where Amazing Happens."
The funny thing is, it could be argued that Hill's accomplishment wasn't even the most stunning on his team. A rejuvenated Shaquille O'Neal, who is even older and much heavier than Hill, played in 75 games this year.
There have been whispers about whatever the team's mysterious training staff has been doing in Phoenix to keep its aging players injury-free. Now it's time for some questions.
I'll go first.
Do NBA players really party with cupcakes? And how many did Shaq put back?
Who knows, that could be the most amazing stat of all. I hope.
UPDATE 4:58pm (EST):
Although these two blogs eluded me while researching my post, both are worth a look and raise very valid points about the depth of the NBA's drug problem.
The On Deck Circle writes:
HGH is banned by the NBA, but there is no reliable urine test to detect its presence. Billy Hunter, the NBA player's union executive director, has said he will let never players be blood tested for HGH. "My guys are tested enough...We don't participate in a sport where there's a need for human growth hormone." Really, Mr. Hunter? It might not be in a basketball player's best interest to recover more quickly from injury, or to increase the density of fast-twitch muscle fiber in his legs?
And Sports By Brooks writes:
If Andy Pettite would use HGH to recover from an injury, do you really think a prominent NBA player wouldn't do the same thing?"
That's a very good question, and one that wouldn't need to be asked if the NBA tested for substances like HGH.