Toward the end of that season, Hill’s ankle started bothering him. The Pistons’ trainers treated it and Hill continued playing, but the ankle kept getting worse. After he pulled himself from a game, the team’s doctors assured him that it was merely a bone bruise. Hill sat out the last few games of the regular season, amid criticism that he was worried about jeopardizing his free-agent payday. He returned for the playoffs, but in his second game he felt a “pop” in his ankle. Hill couldn’t go on. The ankle was diagnosed as broken. He underwent surgery four days later.
The story might still have ended happily. In August 2000, three months after his ankle surgery, the Orlando Magic signed Hill to a seven-year, $93 million deal. In September, Orlando cleared him to scrimmage against his new teammates. “I’m going against guys on the Magic that six months earlier I averaged 40 points against,” Hill said. “And I’m not feeling right.”
Hill had four more surgeries and was never right again. He had a long career as a journeyman but he never was the same player again. Not close.
The Magic had made a mistake, pushing Hill back onto the court before his ankle had fully healed. But Hill had made a mistake, too, deferring to the judgment of the team’s doctors and ignoring his own instincts. He stayed in the NBA — he may retire this summer, at 40, after spending the season with the Los Angeles Clippers — but he never played with the same confidence again. “If I had sat out for a whole season, who knows what would have happened?” Hill said.