The play remains etched in the memory even if the circumstances surrounding it have faded. Details don't matter. Rather, it was my first experience seeing the magic of Grant Hill at South Lakes. In a Northern Region tournament basketball game, Hill took off from the left wing - a play many could make. His punctuation on the play, however, was different.
Hill threw down a one-handed slam in traffic, the sort of play you remember for a reason: Few could make such a play. Few ever did make such a play. But Hill was different, and it was obvious to anyone who saw him play in high school.
After 19 years in the NBA, a stretch that ended with his retirement announcement Saturday, it's clear that Hill was, indeed, different. But it wasn't just for his talent; it was the whole package.
Hill was the best player to ever come out of Northern Virginia - a no-brainer now; probably not much debated then. He was a smooth 6-foot-8 forward who could shoot outside and glide his way toward the basket.
But to miss the other part of Hill's attributes is to miss who he was and why he should be celebrated. Players from Duke are hated: Christian Laettner, Danny Ferry, Bobby Hurley. The list goes on. Hill, though, was never viewed in the same manner as the others in part because of how he played and conducted himself. There was nothing dirty about him, just smooth effort. Hill made it difficult to dislike him.
The funny thing is, one reason people dislike Duke players (probably aside from success) is the nature of the school. It's a private school where entitlement is the perceived negative. Few could act more entitled than Hill, should he go that route. Both his parents are successful - his dad on the football field and off. If anyone fit the stereotype it was Hill. But he never played or acted that way.
The conduct was noticeable in high school, too. One of his former coaches talked about how some were envious of the attention Hill received. They'd push him or egg him on, trying to draw some sort of physical response. Hill never gave them the satisfaction.
After becoming a star in the NBA, and on the verge of becoming perhaps its most complete player, Hill's game took a major hit when he suffered a string of severe ankle injuries. It took him seven years to once again play at least 70 games in a season. There's no doubt it had to be hard for him to keep plugging; he knew what he could have done in the game if healthy. Superstars have a tough time adjusting to a new role, yet that's the way Hill lasted 19 years. He went from respected star to respected starter/role player.
Along the way Hill made sure his legacy won't just be about basketball. He's involved in helping urban areas to eat better, through a variety of ways involving his time, money and effort.
So when Hill is celebrated, it's not just for a basketball career. It's for a well-rounded life, the sort any player should want to emulate. That's exactly what his parents had in mind. I won't forget that dunk, but it was far from the only impressive thing Hill ever did.