By KAREN CROUSE
PHOENIX — It was a rare day off from basketball, but there was no rest for Suns forward Grant Hill. On a recent Saturday morning, Hill had seen his mother off to the airport and visited the barbershop. Now he was seated at the kitchen table, thumbing through the latest issue of Vanity Fair while cradling his crying 3-month-old daughter, Lael, in his lap.
Off in the corner, Hill’s other daughter, Myla, 5, sat in front of the computer, with the volume turned way up to drown out her squalling sister. His wife of eight years, Tamia, came to the rescue with a bottle. As he handed Lael to her, he said, “I do like the noise and the activity.”
The hustle and bustle is what attracted Hill, 35, to this retirement haven. The Suns’ hotfoot style of play intrigued him, and he liked that they are well positioned to jostle for an N.B.A. title. His life, once considered charmed, has taken a lot of elbows to the ribs. After winning the league rookie of the year award in 1995 with Detroit, he had his career derailed by five operations on his left ankle. And his storybook marriage took a grim turn in 1993 when his wife was found to have multiple sclerosis.
After signing with the Suns as a free agent in July, Hill has adjusted to his new life. In his first 15 starts for the Suns, he attempted as many 3-pointers (37) as he did in 182 games over the previous four seasons with Orlando. He was shooting 46 percent from the field — 30 percent from 3-point range — and averaging 14.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
The Suns will set out this weekend on their most arduous trip of the season. Starting Sunday in New York, they will play five games in seven nights. While the coaching staff worries how the trip will wear on Hill, the oldest starter by 16 months, Hill will fret about how his absence will wear on Tamia, a Grammy-nominated R&B artist whose energy reserves can be spread pretty thin dealing with two youngsters, a new album and multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects the nervous system.
“I worry more about her than if I had it,” he said. “Because it’s one of those things where you never know how it’s going to work out. It is something that is very serious and we still — and by we I mean the medical community — see it as a mysterious disease.”
Grant is the only child of only children. He envisioned a different experience for his offspring. He pictured himself and Tamia, 32, who is the oldest of four, presiding over their own pickup basketball team.
These days he maneuvers around the subject of children with caution, his practical concerns about Tamia’s health overriding his romantic notions of being the patriarch of a large brood. “Maybe deep down inside there’s a desire to have a big family, but I’m just so happy and thankful to have two healthy daughters,” he said. “They’re a lot of fun. It’s fun for me.”
Tamia, who had been quietly feeding Lael a bottle on the living room near Grant, chortled when he said that. “I didn’t see that fun smile when I gave her to you this morning,” she said. Then she let out a hearty laugh, and he flashed a knowing smile.
The night before, Hill had played 38 minutes in a victory, the Suns’ eighth straight, against the Los Angeles Clippers. It takes him awhile to wind down after a game, so he did not get to sleep until after 1 a.m. Lael awoke at 5, and he was so groggy, he passed her off to his mother, Janet.
Hill averaged 35 minutes in the Suns’ first 15 games, which Coach Mike D’Antoni deemed too much. “I need to cut him down, although he gets mad at me when I say that,” D’Antoni said. Hill’s physical conditioning is not the problem, D’Antoni added, “I just think his legs, being 35, it’s just better that we cut down his minutes a bit.”
While D’Antoni monitors Grant Hill’s rest, Grant is monitoring Tamia’s. He will cut back on his sleep to give her more because she has to guard against fatigue. She eliminated junk food from her diet and has tried, with less success, to add naps to her routine.
“She may get tired talking about it, but just seeing how she’s continued on has inspired me,” he said.
About every other month, she has a magnetic resonance imaging test on her brain and spinal cord to see if the disease has progressed. So far, so good, Tamia said.
“It’s important to let people know that a diagnosis of M.S. does not have to mean the end of your dreams,” she said. “It is manageable to a certain extent.”
But it will not go away. There are mornings Tamia will wake up feeling bone-tired no matter how many hours she has slept. On those days, an act as simple as brushing Myla’s hair can push her needle past empty.
The Hills have a nanny to help with Lael, and Grant does what he can to make sure Tamia can rest. After a game Monday at Golden State, he arrived home after 2 a.m. He got up at 7 to take Myla to school, as he does every day when he is in town. At practice later, Grant said, “I was dragging, but it was worth it.”
Driving Myla to kindergarten gives him the same pleasure and gratification that driving the lane did when he was younger. The trip takes fewer than five minutes by car, but that is plenty of time for her to sing her father a song or amaze him with her ever-expanding vocabulary.
Hill has mixed memories of the time he spent as a child with his father, Calvin, a star running back for the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns during a 12-year N.F.L. career. Grant, who was 9 when Calvin retired from football, resented how people tugged at his father when they were together.
Hill vowed never to sign autographs when he was out with his children. Then along came Myla, who has a smile for every fan she sees. In 2006, he took her and Tamia to a basketball game at his alma mater, Duke, where he won two N.C.A.A. titles.
After the game, Grant tried to hustle Myla away. She would have none of it. Stopping in her tracks, she tugged on his arm, pointed to a fan who was shouting his name and said, “Dad, he wants your autograph.”
Hill said: “I was different. I didn’t like having to share my dad like that.”
Janet Hill said Myla was more expressive than Grant was at her age. Myla makes up songs and sings to her classmates. She recently phoned her grandmother to tell a joke.
Myla’s precocity is an endless source of amusement to her parents. “She’s very entertaining,” Grant said.
Myla was born in January 2002, in the middle of a three-season stretch in Orlando during which he rarely played because of a recurring ankle injury. But there was a bright side; the injury allowed him to spend a lot of time around Myla during her first two years. He appreciates that time all the more now that he has to leave Lael for days. “Every time I come back, she just seems bigger, more aware,” he said.
In July, when Grant joined the Suns, Tamia was eight months’ pregnant and could not travel. Janet Hill accompanied him to Phoenix for his introductory news conference and stayed to help him pick out a house. After surveying a half-dozen that were near Myla’s school, they settled on a ranch in a quiet cul-de-sac in the shadow of Camelback Mountain in one of Phoenix’s older neighborhoods.
Lael was born Aug. 9 in Orlando. Less than two weeks later, Tamia flew to Phoenix and began turning a house she had never seen into a home. It did not faze her. Living with the unpredictability of M.S. has made her less afraid, as she said, “to jump into the chaos.”
Tamia’s personality seems to match the house’s tranquil earth-tones interior. She was lightly stroking Lael’s back when the infant spit up on the couch. Without losing her train of thought, Tamia removed the towel from her shoulder and wiped up the mess.
A little while later, she handed the baby to Grant, who was holding her when Myla tugged at his sweat pants, then began serenading her sister. “Lael is the queen of the world,” she sang, borrowing the melody from Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
Grant stood rocking Lael and listening to Myla with a look of contentment that no N.B.A. championship could bring. “Sometimes you plan so much for the future,” he said, “that you can forget to enjoy every day.”