Sat, Dec 04, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Hill's climb gets steeper

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION Grant Hill of the Orlando Magic has endured five ankle operations in the last five years, but he's kept on smiling through it all

By Liz Robbins  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Grant Hill's world was perfect once, or so it seemed.

He had won two national championships at Duke and was an All-Star with the Detroit Pistons. He was newly married to a Grammy-nominated singer, was in a television commercial featuring him in a tuxedo playing the piano and had signed a US$93 million contract when he moved to sunny Florida.

Four years and five ankle operations later, Hill is still happy -- imperfectly, but more completely. He and his wife, Tamia, emerged stronger from the frightening fable of pain and recovery they shared.

Entering this season, Hill had played only 47 games for the Orlando Magic since 2000, none last season. But at age 32, he is reclaiming the form he had at the turn of the century.

Friday night, buoyed by a scoring average of 19.9 points a game at small forward, Hill leads the resurgent Magic (9-5) into Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and continues to lift himself out of a three-year period of darkness.

"It has humbled me," he said. "I just think I'm better, I'm stronger, more appreciative of the opportunity to play, and I'm a better teammate and a better person."

Hill, the doting father of a 2-year-old daughter, Myla, described the emotional progress he made.

"The balance between the court, my family, the perspective I have, all that is better than it was five years ago," he said. "In a weird way, I'm glad it's happened."

Even now, "it" seems incredible to catalog. One after another came the operations, the attempted comebacks, then, one week after surgery to realign his left heel in March 2003, Hill was struck by a staph infection.

His fever spiked to 104 degrees, and he went into convulsions. His wife rushed him to an emergency room.

But nothing scared Hill more than when he took his wife to the hospital in Orlando that summer with a condition that at first could not be diagnosed.

Tamia Hill had felt numbness in her hands and feet soon after her husband's latest recovery had begun, but she said nothing. When she could not lift her legs out of bed, she knew something was very wrong.

In August 2003, Hill's doctors at Duke University immediately sent Tamia to specialists.

They told Tamia that she had multiple sclerosis at age 28.

"That's been harder to deal with than dealing with my own situation," Hill said. "I've always looked at the ankle as a bone that will heal or won't heal. It doesn't affect whether you live or die. You can still walk and resume a normal lifestyle with a bad ankle."

After first controlling the disease with medicine -- injections every other day -- Tamia Hill is managing her condition through diet and exercise. For the moment, it is considered inactive. Some days, her body feels better than it does on others.

"Unfortunately, MS often strikes when you're young and healthy," Tamia said earlier this week in a telephone interview. "But it's important to know it's not a death sentence, that you can live with this."

Tamia Hill, a rhythm-and-blues artist, just finished recording her fourth album and will tour next year. It was her husband's positive outlook that, in turn, inspired her.

"When I got the diagnosis -- wow, it was a lot for us to be dealing with," she said. "Everything was happening at one time. For me, his courage, how he dealt with his injuries -- that helped me. You need someone who sees the glass half full."

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