Durham has renovated public basketball courts thanks to this former Duke star

It’s been 25 years since Grant Hill played basketball for Duke and received his degree, double-majoring in history and political science.

Along the way he took a couple of classes at N.C. Central, which brought him up and down Fayetteville Street as he traveled between the campuses.

On Saturday morning, Hill found himself along that busy thoroughfare again, this time inside the city’s W.D. Hill Recreation Center.

Many years have passed since he called Durham home, since he helped Duke national titles in 1991 and 1992 and make the 1994 Final Four. He’s a Naismith Hall of Famer, part-owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, a husband and father to two daughters.

Gray hairs now dot his beard and his close-cropped hair.

Yet one thing hasn’t changed.

“When I come to Durham,” Hill said Saturday, “I feel like I’m home.”

He returned to Durham this week to finalize a special project for his former home.

Hill teamed with sporting goods company Fila to fund renovations of three outdoor basketball courts at the city’s Hillside Park. The courts were redesigned with colorful artwork by local artist Sarahlaine Calva. New backboards were installed along with updated fencing and landscaping, bringing the final price tag between $175,000-$200,000.

It’s part of an on-going project that will see a court refurbishment this summer in Detroit, where Hill started his NBA career with the Detroit Pistons.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am, all of us with the city are excited, that Duke basketball hero and NBA superstar Grant Hill chose Durham as the inaugural city for the program,” Durham city councilman Charlie Reece said. “His contributions to basketball aren’t all he needs credit for. He has always matched his basketball prowess with his care for the community. He is someone who has led by example throughout his life and career.”

Saturday’s rain caused the dedication ceremony to move inside to the Hill Rec Center. But after the speeches, Hill and Fila officials grabbed umbrellas to walk around the courts at Hillside Park, off Roxboro Street.

“I’ve been on a lot of basketball courts in my time, but none quite like this,” Hill said. “It’s like a work of art.”

Former Duke and NBA player Grant Hill (center, with blue umbrella) walks around the renovated basketball courts at Durham’s Hillside Park on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Hill’s charitable foundation teamed with sporting goods company Fila to fund the renovations. Steve Wiseman News & Observer

Calva’s design incorporates plenty of red, white, blue and yellow -- Durham’s official city colors. The Grant Hill Foundation logo is at center court with Fila and other Hill logos elsewhere on the playing surface.

“It’s not about producing the next great basketball player, although that would be great if that happened,” Hill said. “It;s really just about giving kids an opportunity to be active, to exercise, to learn to co-exist with others. Sports is a great metaphor for life. There are so many values that come from playing, that are important, that translate into different areas of life. So for young people to have a place to do that, they’ll grow and benefit from that.”

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.