Back in the days: Grant Hill
‘But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up / forgive, but don’t forget, keep your head up’.
When Tupac Shakur records Keep Ya Head Up it’s 1993 and he can’t imagine his life is going to break three years later because of a fatal assassination attempt. He cannot even imagine that the sneakers he chooses to wear to promote his best album, All Eyez On Me (1996), are inspired by a man who is perfectly suited for that song’s lyrics.
That man’s name is Grant Hill. At those times, Hill was worldwide famous for being ‘just’ a basketball hero: actually, he was much more than that. He was part of a wider process, the testimonial of a metropolitan side of the US that expressed its blackness with pride, along with a great desire of paybacak. John Singleton and Spike Lee, Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker, Halle Berry and TLC, Tupac himself. A huge crowd that Hill has represented with a gentle face, and with a master degree in history and political science that didn’t manage to distract him from his unconditional love for basketball.
In 1994 Grant Hill is drafted by the Detroit Pistons: his coach, Don Chaney, instantly praises his talent in leading his team in points, rebounds and assists – the features that led him to become one of the best all-around players in the game. His allure also conquers FILA, who is searching for the right face to invade the shoe world. When the basketball celebrity accepts to sign with a brand usually related to tennis courts, a lot of people turn their noses up. But things change in front of numbers: Hill’s debut shoe, the Grant Hill 1s, sells more than 1.5 million pairs during his rookie season. Un unexpected success which is confirmed in 1996, when the shoe’s sleek design pairs with Hill’s performance on the court raking in $135 million in sales.
GH2 do not only strengthen a phenomenon, but also create a style, which is geometric, showy, oversize. FILA emerges as a point of reference also in the sneakers realm, remaining loyal to its player also when his star’s light is a bit obscured. Grant Hill’s arc of success is afflicted by accidents, by a complicated, major surgical procedure in which doctors re-fractured his ankle and realigned it with his leg bone, by a fatal methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection, after which he was hospitalized for a week and had to take intravenous antibiotics for six months, that led him to miss an entire season. He plays for the most famous teams (from Orlando Magic to Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers), but continuous physical problems prevent him in shining as he should. On June 1st, 2013, Grant Hill announces his retirement at 41 years old. A lot of bookmakers still define him a ‘What If’ player, maybe without realizing that his sneakers still invade streets and basketball courts. Because Hill has always done everything with a smile on his face, with the positive light which is the gift of all the people who are able to bring changes. With his head up. ‘Dry your eyes, never let up / don’t forget, keep your head up’.