Once upon a time, Grant Hill was the next big thing, a guy who could have a legitimate claim to best player in the league status. Take his 1996-97 season, for example. Hill averaged 21 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists per game, on his way to making first team All-NBA over Scottie Pippen. Pretty chill season for a 24-year-old. His second signature shoe — the beautiful Fila Grant Hill 2, which a seventh grade Trey Kerby used to rock with Calvin Klein jeans and a red No. 33 alternate jersey — even outsold the legendary Air Jordan XI the season they were released. It’s kinda hard to remember now, but Grant Hill was a huge deal way back when.

What’s not hard to remember are the injuries that robbed Hill of several seasons during his prime. He talked about those — and how poorly they were managed — with FOX Sports’ Jason Whitlock. It’s terrible. From his time with the Pistons:

“I (had been) told everything was fine. I even found out that certain team doctors were questioning whether I was really hurt, thinking I was soft or whatever. This was after I had pulled myself from Game 2 against the Heat. At that time, when I found out I had broken my ankle, as crazy as this sounds, I was relieved. I finally had some confirmation, I finally had proof that I’m really not making it up.”

Hill said Isiah Thomas’ long shadow might have affected the way the Pistons dealt with his injury.

“There was a standard in Detroit and that standard was Isiah,” Hill said. “He grew up in Chicago. He was tough. He played hurt. He had that great game against the Lakers in the Finals (on a twisted ankle). He was the face of the franchise and I’m sort of the exact opposite. I’m sure there were Isiah supporters within the organization. Who knows? I can only speculate. But it was like no matter what I did, it wasn’t as good as Isiah….

“I wasn’t trying to prove how tough I am. I was just trying to win.”

And this, from when he joined the Magic:

On Halloween, the Magic opened the season with an 11-point victory over the Wizards. Hill was in the starting lineup.

“The next day the doctor who performed (my) surgery picks the paper up and saw that I played like 30 minutes and he was irate,” Hill said. “I wasn’t supposed to be on the court doing basketball-related activity until December. So somewhere along the line, the ball was dropped. And certainly I didn’t know that until the doctor informed me of that. Apparently he had forwarded all the information down there to Orlando. I was told to follow the instructions. I played in another game in Miami the next night and they shut me down to do rehab for five or six weeks. By then it was too late. What should’ve been a six- or seven-month recovery before you get on the court to play, I was on the court in three or four months.

“I don’t think it was a conspiracy that, ‘Hey, we gotta get him out there.’ Someone just didn’t read the protocol. Which is crazy. You invest $92 million in somebody … I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe how poorly mismanaged this has been.’ ”

Yep, cutting the rehab time in half for a broken ankle in a sport that primarily involves running and jumping sounds like a horrible idea. Thanks a lot, turn-of-the-millennium Pistons and Magic doctors. You cost everyone four seasons worth of prime Grant Hill, which is pretty heinous considering old Grant Hill is still effective and able to play 80 games a season. Really dropped the ball repeatedly on that one. Just another reminder how great Phoenix’s training staff is.

Nonetheless, hearing Hill talk about his injuries is kind of amazing. Even he realizes what everyone missed out on, telling Whitlock, “At the time I got hurt, I felt like the game was becoming very easy for me.” Wish we could have seen that back then.