SPRINGFIELD, MA – For those jokesters who think Jason Kidd and Grant Hill are the same person, actually no one probably should blame them.
After all, both iconic players keep popping up on the same iconic stage.
And no stage is more influential than the one Kidd and Hill stood on Friday night at Symphony Hall when they were both enshrined into the prestigious Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
But to fully appreciate the Kidd-Hill connection, one needs to go all the way back to its birthplace. The year was 1993 and Kidd’s University of California-Berkeley squad were matched up in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Hill and the mighty Duke Blue Devils, who were the two-time defending national champions.
As fate would have it, Kidd and the heavily underdog Cal squad sent shock waves around the country when they upset Duke. That inexplicable loss was the only time Hill failed to advance to the Final Four during his four-year career at Duke.
“I’m still mad about that,” Hill said. “That was sort of where it all began with us.
“If it wasn’t for Jason I might have had the opportunity to be in four Final Fours. It was the second round, so we still had two more games, but they got lucky.”
On June 29, 1994, the paths of Kidd and Hill crossed again as they were both in Indianapolis, Ind., and preparing for the NBA Draft. This afforded an opportunity for both players’ families to get acquainted with one another.
When it was all said and done, Kidd was drafted No. 2 overall by the Dallas Mavericks and Hill went third overall to the Detroit Pistons. And when their first NBA season was in the books, Kidd and Hill both played so splendidly that they were named co-Rookies of the Year.
Kidd and Hill were so synonymous with each other that Kidd even mentioned him in his Hall of Fame induction speech on Friday night.
“Grant Hill, a special thanks to you,” Kidd said. “We were co-Rookies of the Year and now we are being inducted into the Hall of Fame together.
“I think we truly inspired each other to work harder and to achieve more. It’s just an honor to be on this stage with you.”
The link between Kidd and Hill is even deeper. Hill retired from the NBA on June 1, 2013, and Kidd announced his retirement from the NBA two days later.
The mere thought of the over two decades long connection between him and Kidd wasn’t lost on Hill.
“I apologized to Jason because I’m like, ‘Man, you can’t escape me,’ “ Hill said. “I’m always here around the corner.”
A corner where Hill is standing, and Kidd is just a short distance away.
“There has been a connection and a friendship, and kind of back when guys on different teams weren’t friends back in the 90’s,” Hill said. “But there’s always a mutual respect.
“I loved the way he approached the game, how he played. We came in (to the NBA) together, we were co-Rookies of the Year, we retired within days of each other and lo and behold here we are going into the Hall of Fame together.”
Both Kidd and Hill each played 19 years in the NBA. And despite a star-studded career that saw Kidd play in 10 All-Star games – five in the Western Conference and another five in the Eastern Conference – and Hill named to seven All-Star teams, they ironically never were teammates.
In 1996, Kidd was a West All-Star with the Mavs, while Hill was an East All-Star with the Pistons. In 1998, Kidd was on the West All-Star team while representing the Phoenix Suns and Hill was on the East All-Star team while representing Detroit.
Ditto again for Kidd (Suns) and Hill (Pistons) in the 2000 mid-season classic. And in 2001, Hill made the All-Star team as a member of the Eastern Conference’s Orlando Magic while Kidd was with the Suns.
Actually, Kidd and Hill had an opportunity to become teammates. But a litany of injuries kept Hill off the 2000 Olympic team where Kidd and others won a gold medal for the Unites States
“We never played together,” Hill said. “I missed the Olympics in 2000 — I got hurt.
“And in All-Star games we were always sort of against each other early in my career. To say now we’re classmates, we’re teammates, it’s pretty special.”
Hill’s father, former Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill, has noticed the bond between his son and Kidd.
“It’s a special bond,” Calvin Hill said. “I’ve known Jason since he came into the NBA. His family and my family met one another (in 1994) at the draft, and then he gets drafted by Dallas and I have a link to Dallas, so I’ve known him and watched him.
“It was Jason Kidd – a freshman at Cal – who knocked Grant out (of the NCAA tournament in 1993). Grant went to three Final Fours and the guy who prevented him from possibly getting a chance to go to four straight Final Fours was Jason Kidd. But they’ve always been friends, they’ve talked, and suddenly to go into the Hall of Fame together it’s special for them.”