FPM Interview: Grant Hill talks about his new doc on Olympic coach

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

Phoenix Suns star Grant Hill is the executive producer of a new documentary on former Duke and Olympic track coach Al Buehler. When he was a student at Duke, Hill was in Buehler's class. Twenty years later, he's narrating a movie about the life of the man who helped integrate the university, was a champion of Title IX and played a bit role in one of the most controversial moments in Olympic history. Hill talked to Fourth-Place Medal on Thursday about "Starting at the Finish Line," which he narrates, and we spoke about his gold-medal winning performance at the 1996 Games, the impact of the legendary Duke track coach and whether he and teammate Steve Nash are creating a new filmmaking powerhouse.

Fourth-Place Medal: Between you and Steve Nash [who produced and directed a 2010 documentary on Olympic torch carrier Terry Fox] Phoenix is becoming Hollywood southwest. How did you get involved with this film?

Grant Hill: I got involved because a Dukie was starting the project. I heard about it and signed on as an executive producer. I knew Coach Buehler while at school and wanted to tell his story. Lo and behold, my role sort of expanded from executive producer to also narrator [laughs] and here we are now. I kind of stumbled into this. Filmmaking is something Steve's always wanted to do. He's studied it, he's very knowledgeable, technical when it comes to cinematography. What attracted me to this is the story element. I love great stories and obviously the woman I partnered with was more knowledgeable about the actual process of making it. That's how we worked and put this together. So I guess we could say Phoenix is the Hollywood of the desert.

FPM: Next time Steve needs a narrator, we'll be sure to send your resume.

Grant Hill: [Laughs] If he's over budget next time, I can certainly fill in for him for a cheap price.

FPM: I grew up in ACC country, watched ACC sports, went to an ACC school and I had never heard the story of Al Buehler. How did his story stay widely untold for so long?

Grant Hill: There's a lot of this story I didn't know either. One of the reasons why I wanted to be a part of it was that I knew of this unbelievable man who coached track and I didn't know his history and what he was involved with in track and field. I knew he was a man of exceptional character. I felt it was important for Duke, important for them to know of this treasure that they've had for 50 plus years working on campus. Obviously, a lot of his story, the relationship with Dr. Leroy Walker, his entire journey, I was unaware of. I was amazed. Eventually I realized it was bigger than Duke. This man has touched so many lives. This man has been instrumental in a lot of the changes and success in the world of track and field. He's done a lot of things and took a stance on various issues at times when it wasn't very popular. It wasn't very popular and maybe not even legal for whites and blacks to have a friendship and a working relationship in North Carolina in the early-'60s. It wasn't popular for college athletics to embrace Title IX. He's a gentle, kind man who has a lot of compassion and a lot of strengths. It certainly was a story I felt needed to be told. It's sort of refreshing and reminds you of why sports can be so good.{YSP:more}

FPM: If you had walked on to Al Buehler's track instead of Mike Krzyzewski's court, which events do you think you'd have done?

Grant Hill: I think the 400 meters, maybe the long jump or the high jump. I like to think of myself as a pretty good athlete, I don't think I'm a great sprinter, but 200, 400, maybe 800. I won't say excel in them but I'd do pretty good.

FPM: Interesting. I was watching a replay of the Kentucky game the other day and would have thought you'd be a natural for the shot put or javelin.

Grant Hill: [Laughs]

FPM: Al Buehler coached in multiple Olympics [he was the man who drove John Carlos and Tommie Smith to the airport after they were banned from the Olympic village]. You won a gold medal in 1996. Where does that rank on your list of career achievements?

Grant Hill: It's something I don't think of often. Obviously the Olympics comes around every four years, so it's not something I think about too much. In the grand scheme of things, it was a tremendous accomplishment. To be in the select company of folks who have that gold medal, to have won it being the youngest guy on the team with a number of Hall of Famers and legends of the game, it's one of those accomplishments that I'm proud of. I don't think of it that often though. The accomplishments in college and even in the pros are more in my mind because you constantly see Duke on TV during basketball season. You constantly see the NBA. There are trophies in my home, so I'm constantly reminded of that. But what I experienced in 1996, I'm so thankful to not only win but to be a part of the whole experience.

FPM: The guys at Ball Don't Lie would kill me if I didn't ask; who do you like the rest of the playoffs?

Grant Hill: I don't know! I don't really like anyone, but I'd go with the favorites. Los Angeles and Boston have the experience and have both been there a number of times in the past few years. That's the beauty of the playoffs. Anything can happen. There have been some upsets already and we'll have to see how it plays out. I'd say L.A. and Boston are the favorites.

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