Eventually, the NBA's brightest stars will fade from the sky. Great players come and go. Most new players wait, ready to carry on their tradition. Wilt Chamberlain and Russell were 2 of the best centers the game has ever seen. Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West were the smoothest guards in the 50's and 60's. Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Walt Frazier dazzled fans in the 70's. The 80's, of course, belonged to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. The next generation is now ready to step into the spotlight. The exciting young players I've chosen have only been in the NBA a few years, but have made their presence known. Damon Staudamire and Grant Hill are the Next Generation in the NBA.
On Damon Staudamire's right arm is a tattoo of mightymouse clutching a basketball. It is an appropriate symbol. Damon, the 5'10'' point guard for the Toronto Raptors, is a small kid in a big man's world. But size hasn't stopped him from accomplishing big things. He was named the NBA Rookie of the Year after the 1995-96 season. Like his favorite cartoon character, Damon knows that size is not everything. "A lot of people think that being short is a disadvantage, but I don't see it that way" (Benagh, 71.)
Damon Staudamire was born on September 3, 1973, in Portland, Oregon. His father, Willie, had played college ball at Portland State. And the Detroit Lions had drafted his uncle. It's no surprise that one of his heroes was Nate Archibald, a 6'0'' guard who's nickname was "Tiny." Damon is even smaller than tiny. But he has proved that basketball is not just a game for giants. If a player is quick and smart he'll be good.
At Wilson High School Damon was captain of the varsity basketball team. "As a senior he averaged 26.1 points and 9.0 assists (Benagh, 72.) He was named Oregon player of the year and led his team to the state championship. In college Damon was also very impressive. He led the University of Arizona to the final four in just his junior year. As a senior he averaged 22.8 points and 7.3 assists (Sporting News, www.sportingnews.com.) He was a first-team All America.
Damon carries 171 pounds on his muscular frame. He may be short, but he is not weak. And he happens to be one of the quickest guards in the NBA. He reminds many fans of Isiah Thomas, a 6'1'' fantastic guard of the 80's. Isiah was the executive vice president of the Raptors. "We're here to work toward winning a title, that's one of the reasons we wanted Damon,"(Benagh, 79) say's Thomas, "He's a show all by himself, watching Damon makes you want to jump up and holler" (Damon Staudamire Online, www.geocities.com)
Before he entered the NBA, some of Damon's critics said he couldn't run an offense. They felt he was a scorer, not a passer. But he proved that he could do both. Damon averaged 19 points and 9.3 assists in his rookie season (Benagh, 75). He is only going to get better as his career progresses. By the end of his rookie season, he led all rookies in steals, assists, and minutes played. He had 30 points in one game. In another he had 19 assists. "I think I definitely got better as the year went on, but you know there's a lot of room for improvement" (Layden, 37.)
Grant Hill has always been a step ahead of the crowd. Even when he didn't want to be. As a freshman in high school, he was 6'6'' and 165 pounds. The coach asked him to try out for the varsity basketball team thinking he would be honored. Grant broke down and cried.
"I didn't want to jump over my friends," Grant remembers,
"I just wanted to be liked. I didn't want to seem better than everybody else"(Layden, 15).
A lot has changed since Grant was a shy 14-year"“old. Now he is comfortable with being the best. The now 6'8'' forward for the Detroit Pistons shared NBA rookie of the year honors with Jason Kidd of the Mavericks in 1995. Next year he was named to the All-NBA Second Team. And then in the summer he was a member of the United States Olympic Basketball Team. Grant also had an exceptional high school career. He was named Northern Virginia Player of the Year 3 times. "As a senior he averaged 30 points a game and was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation. (Layden, 16).
Grant decided to attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. There he played on some great basketball teams. The Blue Devils won national championships in his freshman and sophomore seasons. He was an important part in those 2 titles. He was Defensive player of the year once and offensive once. Grant's senior year was good. He led Duke in scoring (19.4 points a game), assists, and steals (Layden, 18). He was named first-team All-America and led his team to the final four.
On NBA Draft Day, Grant was selected third by the Detroit Pistons. Detroit's general manager was so happy to draft Grant that he burst into tears.
"We've talked a lot about the kinds of people we want to acquire
to get us back to the top. I had a little formula "“ TCTP. Talent, Character, and a Team Player . Grant Hill embodies that phrase.
He's a professional" (Benagh, 52).
Since coming into the NBA, Grant has been phenomenal. "He led the team in scoring as a rookie averaging 19.9 points. The next year he increased his scoring average to 20.2 and his rebounding average to 9.8; leading the Pistons in both categories.
To Grant, having the right attitude means understanding that there is more to life than just sports. He thinks athletes should be giving something back to the community. That is why he started the Grant Hill Summer Basketball program, which offers instruction and academics to children in Detroit. These things make Grant a complete person aside from a complete basketball player. "Grant is an all-around player," says Joe Dumars, one of Grants teammates. He has a complete game" (Layden, 22). Players like Grant are hard to come by and he has made that evident to everyone.
Never before in the NBA have two young players made such an immediate impact. Rookies are usually pushed around and picked on. No NBA rookies ever lead their team in more than one category. Damon Staudamire and Grant Hill have broken all the rules. The are the future of the NBA. They are responsible for keeping young fans interested and attending games. Past NBA players only wish there were more young athletes like Damon and Grant. Staudamire and Hill have competed with great enthusiasm and responded to all challenges. As long as Damon and Grant are on highlight reels, the NBA will stay alive.