March 01, 2011
Entering the 1992-93 season, Horace Grant was a little upset. Pretty peeved. Downright angry.
His Chicago Bulls team, with Grant at times working as the anchor of a superb defense referred to by assistant coach Johnny Bach as the "Dobermans," had just won its second title. And even with Charles Barkley taking residence in Phoenix for his first full season, and the expected improvement of the New York Knicks, these Bulls were the odds-on favorite to win the team's third straight title. This hadn't been accomplished by an NBA team in over 25 years, and yet who was going to bet against Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in their primes?
And yet, Grant wasn't happy. Bulls coach Phil Jackson was letting stars Jordan and Pippen take it easy in training camp, even letting the duo sit out some practices, as they recovered from their participation in that year's Olympic experience in Barcelona. With a draining 1991-92 campaign followed by a run with the Dream Team leading into what most assuredly would be another 100-game season as the Bulls ran deep into the playoffs -- whew! -- who could blame him?
Grant could. And as a twin (his brother, you'll recall, enjoyed a sturdy NBA career, most notably with the Washington Bullets), Grant was used to having his closest compatriot share things evenly with him. His best friend on the Bulls, and in the realm of the real world, was Scottie Pippen. They drove the same Italian cars. They were the best men at each other's weddings. They wore the same style clothes, played in the same frontcourt, and could barely be separated from each other following their first day with the Bulls back in 1987.
But now Pippen was moving ahead. He had made the All-Star team, while Grant remained a highly regarded also-ran. Pippen made the Dream Team, and Grant stayed home. And Pippen, alongside his seemingly new best buddy in Michael Jordan, got to sit out practices and the second half of two-a-days, while Grant sweated away. And Horace didn't like it.
He pressed on, though. And though Grant had a miserable finals run offensively in 1993, he was stellar throughout the playoffs. In the next season, without Jordan, Grant was an All-Star and one of the bigger reasons why the Bulls barely fell off in the standings without the best player ever in the lineup. Grant had a chance to fret, to complain about his role and shots and the amount of shoe ads he was a part of. Instead, he worked. And the NBA noticed.
Perhaps the Orlando Magic overrated the All-Star in seeking Grant out in the summer of 1994, but his play (the play that didn't get him a chance at the Dream Team) was exactly what Orlando needed. A guy who wouldn't use up too many possessions, who wouldn't stop ball movement, and would only stick jumpers (and as the Bulls found out in the 1995 playoffs, jumper after jumper after jumper) when all other options fell. While scurrying all over the floor defensively, and crashing the boards. And after signing a middle-of-the-road starter deal in Orlando with the wink-wink promise that more contracts were in the offing, Grant became one of the first NBA players to make eight figures in a year in 1996.
From there, he was at the mercy of various whims. Whims of the superstars he played with, the knees that those superstars pivoted with, or the GMs that ran the teams he worked for. Through it all, Grant worked. He became one of the first overpaid semi-stars to be treated as an expiring contract, being sent to Seattle for the 1999-00 season as Orlando cleaned house. He worked as one of a new breed of former stars that took their talents to the veteran team that needed it most, reuniting with Phil Jackson and the Lakers the year after.
From there he bounced around, and while he had an embarrassing run-in with Doc Rivers while playing for the Magic nearly a decade ago, he kept his wits about him. He learned that while teams may overrate and overpay those who contribute to winning teams without actually being star-level players, well ... heads up! Teams may overrate and overpay those who contribute to winning teams without actually being star players!
And unlike some other types we've seen recently as I make my second Hedo Turkoglu(notes) dig of the day, Grant's effort never waned. He did all he could do to help his teams win, and when his insecurities wanted to do more to aid in the promoting of his individual stats, and internal security with his own role, he found a way to back off. From 1992, until the end.
The point of all this? Horace Grant lives on a house on the beach in California. Due to a diligent weight-lifting routine, he's just six pounds heavier than his NBA playing weight, even though he hasn't been in the NBA for seven years, and he lives with the woman he loves, their two daughters, and with another child along the way.
A recent interview in the Los Angeles Times helps seal the deal:
"It's so serene," he says. "It's such a beautiful area."
At the moment, the former Lakers forward is seated in the living room of a rented hilltop home high above Pismo Beach.
Out the window on a clear winter day, views of the jagged coastline are magnificent, stretching from San Luis Obispo Bay to the northwest, the shimmering Pacific Ocean dead ahead and, to the south, the Pismo Dunes Natural Preserve and beyond.
Later, from the deck, the 45-year-old Grant points south toward Arroyo Grande, where his home is under renovation.
Sounds pretty chill, and enviable. And Kelly Dwyer tends to make Woody Allen look like Kelly Slater when it comes to being comfortable on a beach.
I point this out because in the next few years we're going to see a lot of great, top-heavy teams that feature a near-star that is just right there. Not quite an All-Star, but admired to no end. And those stars, because it's only natural, will feel a bit of a twinge any time a TV guy stops just short of mentioning their name amongst the All-Stars on their respective teams. That resentment can't help but build up. There would be something wrong with these people if it didn't.
Grant let it get to him, but only for a short spell. Through it all he worked, and played hard, and while his twin-based expectations may have been off in a sporting world full of pecking orders and class issues, he succeeded. As mentioned before, he's allowed to sit in his gorgeous rented house, watching the house he's about to buy being built. The sun shines, throughout.
As we consistently look back to Magic, Bird and MJ for inspiration in figuring out just what to expect from this current crop of NBA stars, it's clear that Horace Grant's name should be brought up to fawn over by the other 95 percent of the NBA. He didn't do everything right, nobody ever will, but he wasn't bad while he tried.
And it's fair to say that things are working out pretty well for him these days.