Growing up in the Washington D.C. area, Suns forward Grant Hill was used to digesting politics with his meatloaf at the dinner table. With a mother that was once suitemates with Hillary Clinton at Wellesley College, it only seemed natural that Hill would be not only monitoring Tuesday’s election, but playing a role in it.
As Hill posted 11 points in the Suns’ 114-86 road victory of the Nets, he paid close attention during timeouts as the in-arena PA announcer provided updates of the presidential race. But it wasn’t until he was on the bus to the airport that he finally heard that Barack Obama had won his bid for the White House.
“It’s like, wow, I can’t believe it,” Hill said. “Even until the last minute, even though he was up in the polls and projected to win, there was still a nervous energy there on my part that it was almost too good to be true.”
It was on the bus, via cell phone, that he and his wife, Tamia, were able to soak in the historical significance of the first African-American to be named President of the United States. But to the Hills, the election was more personal than that.
Hill’s mother, Janet, who acts as a vice president of a D.C. corporate consulting firm, first took notice of Obama some years ago, when she was mentoring his wife, Michelle. Janet would actually help Michelle get appointed to her first corporate board.
Besides Janet’s relationship with Michelle, Janet’s business partner had a son serve as a chief consultant on Obama’s campaign. And although the Suns forward had heard rumblings about Obama for some time, Obama registerd his first real imprint on Hill’s consciousness when he delivered a sizzling keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a speech that would eventually thrust him into the national spotlight.
In May of 2007, when Obama was far from the frontrunner as the nominee for the Democratic Party, Hill decided to co-host a fundraiser for him in Washington D.C. At that moment in time, the crowd was filled with supporters of Hillary Clinton and undecided Democrats that wanted to hear what Obama’s ideas were. It was there that he became more familiar with Obama on a personal level.
“He just had the ability to connect,” Hill said. “Amidst all of that chaos (of his campaign), when you’re shaking his hand and talking to him, he made us feel like we were the most important people in the world.
“We were just really stunned and we were in awe of him and how he just made us feel very important. He had that ‘it’ thing and it certainly came across in my first meeting.”
That quality would be reiterated a few months later when Hill and his wife were driving in Arizona and he received a phone call from the Illinois Senator, who had called him to thank him for the fundraiser and his support. As Hill was talking on the phone, he attempted to whisper to his curious wife that it was Obama on the phone.
“He’s got my cell phone number,” Hill recalls whispering to his wife. “That was the kid and fan in all of us that certainly came out at that point in time.”
As the campaign marched on, Hill became more and more attracted to his message, and although Janet was friends with Hillary Clinton back in college, the entire Hill family threw their support behind Obama.
For the former Rookie of the Year, it was his similarities to Obama’s views on health care and the war in Iraq that earned his vote. He also admired his intelligence and judgment, believing that Obama will provide a refreshing voice that will lead the country in the right direction.
“Just to see the momentum slowly develop and get to a point to where he is now, what he has been able to accomplish, how he has run an unbelievable campaign while refraining from going dirty in the process,” Hill said. “He handles himself with class and respect. It just has been a long process, but it certainly has been a fun one to follow and to witness something truly special.”
Hill, who won the 2007-08 NBA Sportsmanship Award and is known as one of the more respected and eloquent players in the league, seems primed for a career in public service once his playing days are over. But the former Duke graduate is reluctant to commit himself to such a path.
“As an adult and taxpayer, I’ve enjoyed following and participating in the whole political process,” he said. “But I’ll have to wait and see.”
To Hill, the desire to hold office seems to have skipped a generation.
“My first-grader wants to be President and that’s all she talks about,” the seven-time All-Star said.
His daughter, Myla, can often be found asking fellow classmates whether or not they are Republican or Democrat, most likely in preparation for her presidential bid in 2048. For Hill, he believes much of his daughter’s enthusiasm should be credited to none other than Obama.
“Fortunately for her, she now has that example,” Hill said. “Here’s a 6-year old that is surprisingly pretty passionate about politics. But, I think maybe she talks to her grandmother too much. Who knows?”