Hill: Players learned from lockout

A lockout shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games for players like Grant Hill

NEW YORK – Thirteen years ago, Grant Hill(notes) was one of the NBA’s big stars with a rèsumè already decorated with four All-Star appearances and an All-NBA first team selection. At just 26 years old, the Detroit Pistons forward was in the prime of his career.

And then the NBA entered a lockout that delayed the start of the 1998-99 season by more than three months.

After the season was shortened from 82 to 50 games, Hill lost a big chunk of the $6.6 million he was scheduled to make that season. With the NBA now on the verge of entering another lockout – the current collective bargaining agreement expires Thursday – Hill has no regrets about the players’ last extended labor battle.

“It’s always worth it. I think you learn a lot,” Hill said. “…I think it’s worth it. I think the game recovered. The game is in great shape now.”

The league can only hope its good health continues if it has to endure another lengthy lockout. The playoffs and draft boasted their highest television ratings in years. Nearly all of the league’s major-market teams have returned to relevance. And the league has a group of young stars, led by Derrick Rose(notes), Kevin Durant(notes) and Blake Griffin(notes) that figure to only grow in popularity as they get older.

“I think both sides are very smart and understand sort of what’s at stake,” Hill said. “But I’m confident they will figure out what’s best for the game.”

A 17-year veteran who lost some of the prime seasons of his career to injury, Hill said he has talked to his younger teammates about what to expect – and what they need to do – during the lockout.

“You hear a lockout and you don’t know what that means,” Hill said. “I think we are all sort of conditioned right when Labor Day and October and November roll around, you start playing. And all of the sudden you’re not.

“You want to stay in shape. You want to stay mentally and physically ready. You want to be wise with purchases and you want to make sure financially you can weather the storm. The young guys have been really good in terms of asking [questions].”

Hill will turn 39 before the start of next season, and was the second-oldest player in the league this year. Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd(notes), who just won his first NBA championship at 38, has said he’ll consider retiring if a lockout lasts too long. Hill, too, is concerned about what impact an extended layoff will have on him.

“It’s tough, especially for an older guy,” Hill said. “You got certain benchmarks you try to reach in the offseason to get ready for training camp. You could do too much or do too little just in terms of staying in shape, staying sharp.”

Hill hasn’t attended the labor negotiations in New York, and has been relying on teammate Josh Childress(notes), the Phoenix Suns players’ representative, to keep him updated.

“I’m involved as I need to be,” Hill said. “When you get older, I can’t be flying up to New York. I got to stay in shape. It’s not an easy thing. I’m confident with our leadership and our guys who are at the table. From what I hear there has been some really healthy conversations and dialogue. We just have to continue that.

“At least we have the luxury of having it before and learning from it as players and also as a Players Association. I think this time around guys are better prepared. It was kind of crazy last time. It might get crazy here now.”

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