Hill –> Bradley –> Flip

hill-bradley-saunders

1. Grant Hill

He retired last night during the TNT pregame show. Hill is one of the most successful, post-Wooden college players. He won two national titles and was runner up for a third. He was an All-American and ACC Player of the Year. In the NBA, Hill was — for a not-insignificant period of time — on the short list of the game’s greatest players.  The absolute PICTURE of “NBA Ready,” a 22-year old Grant Hill was Co-Rookie of the Year with fellow superstar, future hall of famer, and still-playing Jason Kidd. For six seasons, before injuries I don’t need to detail here, he averaged between 19.9 and 25.8 points, 6.4 and 9.8 rebounds, and 5.0 and 7.3 assists, per game.

Healthy Grant Hill is one of the best small forwards I’ve ever seen. The only one clearly better has a Game 7 tomorrow night.

2. Bill Bradley

What does Grant Hill have to do with Bill Bradley?

A lot of things, actually. Hill interned for Bradley while he was U.S. Senator for the State of New Jersey. It’s far from the only political wrinkle in Hill’s life. His mother, Janet Hill, was college roommates with Hillary Clinton, who could very well be the next Democratic candidate for president. Hill himself actively supported the campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama. It seems possible if not likely that Hill’s future will include politics. It would surprise no one if Hill followed the Bill Bradley path of transitioning from NBA star to United States Senator.

Both Hill and Bradley used their elite combination of athleticism and intellect to garner universal respect of their peers. In doing so each confronted racial tension. Bradley, a college basketball superstar at Princeton, attained widespread fame as the Most Valuable Player in the 1965 Final Four, even though his team lost. (Scoring 58 points in the now-defunct consolation game didn’t hurt.) In a basketball world that was rapidly changing in complexion, the mainstream sports media latched onto Bill Bradley.

Harvey Araton explained in his epic, “When the Garden was Eden“:

Bradley suspected that he received the zealous praise precisely because he was no exceptional specimen. Many coaches and sportswriters relished the opportunity to champion a so-called thinking man’s player, and were inclined to celebrate him for that reason–if not strictly for the color of his skin.

Given the mounting evidence that the sport was well on its way to becoming a national stage for talented black men, and in the face of fomenting social issues, Bradley believed he may have been the first of the great white hopes. In hindsight, he admitted that it was not a role he was comfortable with; white and black players alike saw through the thinly disguised media stereotyping, he said. From Bradley to Bird and beyond, black stars would chafe at the blue-collar, hardworking characterizations that accompanied the shrinking number of their white counterparts, while they themselves were lauded for their God-given talent.

Araton goes on to explain how Bradley bolstered his credibility with black and white audiences alike. Between his first and second NBA seasons he ran in Philadelphia’s legendary Baker League that included the likes of Earl Monroe and other NBA stars. The two future Knicks teammates had a head-to-head matchup that summer that remains a primary piece of non-televised basketball lore. Accounts differ, but the story goes that in front of a jam-packed crowd in the basement of Bright Hope Baptist Churt, Monroe’s team beat Bradley’s in overtime. Bradley scored over 50; Monroe over 60. Araton quotes the league’s founder, Sonny Hill: “Here in Philly, it’s like Wilt’s 100-point game: 10,000 folks will tell you ‘I was there.’” (Eds Note: As someone who greatly enjoys watching the likes of Khalid El-Amin and Mitch Ohnstad do battle in the Howard Pulley Pro-Am, I can’t even imagine what sitting in on a run like this one must’ve been like.)

Bradley and Monroe went on to become champion teammates on the 1973 Knicks and friends to this day, such that the senator wrote the foreward to Monroe’s new book, “Earl the Pearl.”

Hill had a more recent bout with racial discomfort upon the release of ESPN’s documentary, “The Fab Five.” In it, Jalen Rose — the film’s director, star and now a popular NBA personality on Grantland and ESPN — harshly criticized the Duke team that he faced as a freshman Wolverine. Rose took a direct shot at Hill and other black Blue Devils, referring to them as “Uncle Toms.” Rose later clarified that he was describing the opinions of his 17-year old self, not the ones he carries today.

No matter. Hill went on the defensive in a New York Times piece that was equal parts classy and biting, dismantling any notion that he and his family should apologize for being black and successful.

Hill wrote, in part:

I am beyond fortunate to have two parents who are still working well into their 60s. They received great educations and use them every day. My parents taught me a personal ethic I try to live by and pass on to my children.

I come from a strong legacy of black Americans. My namesake, Henry Hill, my father’s father, was a day laborer in Baltimore. He could not read or write until he was taught to do so by my grandmother. His first present to my dad was a set of encyclopedias, which I now have. He wanted his only child, my father, to have a good education, so he made numerous sacrifices to see that he got an education, including attending Yale.

This is part of our great tradition as black Americans. We aspire for the best or better for our children and work hard to make that happen for them. Jalen’s mother is part of our great black tradition and made the same sacrifices for him.

Racial tension is but one challenge that basketball superstars confront. In the cases of Grant Hill and Bill Bradley, their ability to transcend it speaks to their great character and rightful places — should Hill choose it, anyway — in policy-making roles.

3. Flip Saunders

A tougher question: What does Bill Bradley have to do with Flip Saunders? In truth: Almost nothing (as far as I know). But hey, this is a Timberwolves blog, dammit, and I’ll bring this Grant Hill’s Future discussion back to the T-Wolves if at all possible. And it turns out that it is!

Bill Bradley wrote a book. It’s called, “We Can All Do Better,” it was published in May 2012, and in it he uses things like facts to diagnose America’s problems and recommend solutions. Bradley is particularly concerned about campaign financing and, more generally, the money culture of Washington. In his chapter, “Uprooting the Root of All Evil,” Bradley writes that President Obama missed a big opportunity to remedy this money problem during his first weeks in office.

In the early months of his presidency, he had a nearly 70-percent approval rating and a Democratic House and Senate. He could have said that “changing Washington” meant you had to end the money culture. The people elected him to change Washington, he could have said, and so he wanted hearings on campaign finance reform in the first two weeks of the congressional session and a bill on his desk by March.

The pertinent part (just go with me on this) is the “in the early months of his presidency.” There’s a Wikipedia page devoted to the First Hundred Days of a president’s term, as it’s commonly considered the window of time when the newly elected has the greatest opportunity for influence.

An NBA franchise is not a democracy and there’s a great deal of difference between Flip Saunders’ job and Barack Obama’s. But setting that aside I can’t escape the feeling that Flip — hired about one month ago — will want to make some kind of splash in his first summer on the job. It probably won’t involve Kevin Love and it definitely won’t involve Ricky Rubio (David Kahn’s “First 100 Days” highlight), but there’s gotta be some move up his sleeve above and beyond simply drafting 9th and 26th in the upcoming draft. If not, then he’s essentially going with the status quo of what he inherited from Kahn. How likely does that seem, irrespective of its possible wisdom? Coaching and management changes typically begin with a positive buzz. I mostly perceive that right now with Saunders.

Kahn was able to quickly turn depreciating assets Mike Miller and Randy Foye into the draft pick that netted Rubio. Way before Kahn, McHale began a long tenure as Wolves head honcho by drafting a high schooler named Kevin Garnett. Even if it’s nothing but ego and a need felt to put his stamp on the team’s roster, Saunders probably wants to make some noise. The most realistic trade chips he’s got are Derrick Williams and the lottery pick. Don’t be surprised if he’s making and taking daily phone calls for combinations that include those and maybe other assets.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Hill –> Bradley –> Flip

  1. j.

    Excellent point RE: Flip’s first 100 days. Hope it’s more than OJ Mayo.

  2. Richard Bentley

    It’s difficult to put a value judgment on Saunders at this point. My own view is that he has shown by his track record that his competency is spotty at best. If he wants to make a splash simply because he’s the new guy in town, he’s making a big mistake. There is a core in place. One can raise the objection that there is a big need for a shooting guard, but Shved and Budinger can play that position (and have the size), and one is an evolved player while the other (Shved) is definitely an up-and-comer who is very close to becoming an above-average player in the league. What the Wolves need is depth. Depth at small forward, depth at shooting guard, depth at the center position, and depth at the four. To make a big splash by breaking up the team with some questionable trade or reach is not the way to go. Draft or trade for players that give depth, because if someone goes down with the team as is, there is trouble in River City.