Heir vs Air: Grant Hill’s Best Piston Moments Against Michael Jordan

Tackling each of the games that Grant Hill matched up against Michael Jordan, and how he fared.

In 1994 the Detroit Pistons made one of their greatest picks of all time when they selected Duke forward Grant Hill at #3. Picturing a 22 year old, 4 year college starter, as a lottery pick, who instantly becomes a star in the league is inconceivable in the modern NBA, but Hill was ready to compete in pros the minute he put on his #33 Pistons jersey.

Hill was the top vote getter for the All Star Game in his rookie campaign. At 6’8″ 225 pounds, with the quickness of a point guard, and pure athleticism to boost, Hill became a prototype for the future of the league.

His first season ended with him sharing Rookie of the Year honors with Jason Kidd, sporting averages of 19.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5 assists, nearly 2 steals, and 1 block a game, per Basketball Reference.

Also: How Sekou Doumbouya's rookie season stacks up to others

But towards the end of that rookie campaign a certain Piston’s rival returned to the Chicago Bulls wearing #45 after an 18 month baseball career. Michael Jordan was back and ready to show the youngsters in the league that he was still the alpha dog.

In the first matchup between the two this happened:

Media outlets from then on would often dub the matchup Heir vs. Air. Crowning Hill as the heir to Jordan’s thrown as if MJ needed anymore motivation.

The Bulls would best the Pistons in this game and Jordan would finish with 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists, but this is a still developing Hill showing off his underrated handles and one of the few players to crossover Jordan.

The matchups

  • February 15 1996, Hill put up 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field in a 44 minute overtime battle against Jordan and the Bulls. Unfortunately Detroit would end up losing by 3.
  • Christmas Day 1996, Hill finished with 27 points, 8 rebounds, on 50 percent shooting in a national TV matchup.
  • April 13 1997, the Pistons won 108-91 while Hill put up a 27,12,10 triple double.
  • January 3 1998, Hill played brilliantly in a Piston’s loss finishing with 31 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 steals, on 11-21 shooting.
  • March 31 1998, Jordan and Hill battled throughout with Hill posting a monster stat line of 37 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, on 13-24 shooting.
  • April 15 1998, the final matchup between Hill as a Piston and Jordan as a Bull. The Pistons and Hill ousted Jordan and the Bulls 87-79. Hill had a superb, but fairly routine stat line of 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 12 assists.

(All stats from the previous matchups are via landofbasketball.com)

The Heir vs. Air hype would have picked up more steam if the Pistons were able to win more, a statement most of the league would say about the 90’s Bulls. Although Hill’s game resembled Scottie Pippen‘s more so than Jordan’s, the two of them had memorable competitive moments against each other.

With Grant Hill’s move to Orlando and subsequent injuries, many forget that Hill was one of many players that the media tried to paint as the next Jordan. He remains one of the ultimate “what if” athletes because his prime was cut short.

Those 6 years as a Piston were something special to watch. He introduced a new generation to the franchise and should ultimately be applauded for how hard he played while in Detroit.

Next: Michael Jordan lied about Isiah Thomas and the Dream Team
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