Most people complain long and loud if they have to work on Christmas Day. Veteran NBA forward Grant Hill isn't among them. "This is probably my fourth or fifth time, believe it or not, doing it," says the 36-year-old Hill, whose Phoenix Suns will square off at home against the San Antonio Spurs in the opener of ABC's NBA doubleheader on Thursday, Dec. 25, "and I think it's better, of course, when you're home. Playing on Christmas last year in L.A., it was tough - on the road, with the children, celebrating Christmas, and having that early game. But at least now we have that early game, and we can go home and spend the rest of the day opening presents and enjoying ourselves. "But yeah, it's one of those things where it's an honor and it's certainly a privilege to be playing on Christmas Day," he continues. "And when they say it's a little bit of an inconvenience, hey, it truly is an honor. And to celebrate Christmas, to spend time with family and to play basketball, it doesn't get a whole lot better than that."
The Spurs/Suns game is but one of five broadcast nationally Thursday in what amounts to a yuletide basketball smorgasbord. Things get going at midday (ET) on ESPN, when Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic play host to the Chris Paul-led New Orleans Hornets in a battle of first-place teams. Following the Spurs-Suns game, a rematch of the 2007-08 NBA Finals ensues on ABC when Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics visit Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. That night, the action switches to TNT, where Caron Butler and the Washington Wizards challenge LeBron James and the homestanding Cleveland Cavaliers. The evening ends in Portland, where Greg Oden and the Trail Blazers take on Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.
As for the Suns' game against the Spurs, Hill sees it as yet another test in the his team's quest for an NBA title. "It's going to be great," says Hill, a seven-time All-Star with a 19 points per game scoring average over 13-plus seasons. "You know, we beat them (103-98) opening night for them, in San Antonio this year. They'll have Tony (Parker) back and Manu (Ginobili), who wasn't in that game. "Anytime we play them, it's heated," he says. "It's heated, it's a great matchup, I think certainly because of the fact that we're playing on Christmas Day and playing each other. I think the public and television realize that the two franchises have a history, so it should be an exciting game. And usually those games are good games to watch, especially if the Suns win."
At this writing, the Suns had won 11 of their first 18 games under new coach Terry Porter to stand in second place in the Pacific Division behind the Lakers. Coming on the heels of last season's 55-win campaign under Mike D'Antoni, the Suns aren't quite where they wanted to be, but Hill recognizes that there is a period of adjustment with a new coach and a new system. "I think it's just different in the sense that guys were accustomed and used to a certain way and had success, and guys are trying hard to adjust, so it's a work in progress," Hill says. "You know, we're not going to be judged by what we do in November, but rather what we do in April, May and June. And hopefully, we'll continue to work hard and get better and be one of those teams at that period of time who's playing and ultimately competing for a championship."
Of course, part of the championship equation has to include 14-time All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal, who was acquired by the Suns in February. "He's a big target, he's a big body and a big personality," Hill says, laughing. "Having the opportunity to start off the season with him, as opposed to thrusting him into the mix midway through, is good. So we're just figuring it out. He's certainly playing better than he played last year for us, and we're just starting to work through the pieces we have and the weapons we have and try to make it all come together and jell." And making the parts mesh for Phoenix is point guard Steve Nash, a two-time league MVP and six-time All-Star. "Oh, it's a lot of fun," Hill says of playing with Nash. "He's just a great teammate, a great player and person, unselfish, works hard. I consider him a good friend. ... A guy who just likes to play and does things the right way, just has a lot of good energy. A good person."