30 September 2010

Besides hoops, Hill inspires as Filmmaker

USA Today

A different kind of work consumed Grant Hill this offseason. It wasn't rehabilitation for the formerly oft-injured Phoenix Suns forward, and the lights, cameras and action were focused, for a change, on someone else.

Last weekend, executive producer Hill presented at Duke, his alma mater, a private, rough-cut screening of Starting at the Finish Line: The Coach Buehler Story. It's Hill's first venture into film, joining him with teammate Steve Nash as documentary producers.

Hill's is about legendary Duke track coach Al Buehler [pictured], who coached either cross country or track there for 45 years and was manager for three U.S. Olympic teams.

Little is known about the role of Buehler, 79, in forging integration at Duke and the all-white Atlantic Coast Conference — or how he invited LeRoy T. Walker, a future U.S. Olympic Committee president who was track coach at historically black North Carolina Central, and his athletes to train with Buehler's team.

Neither is much known about Buehler paving the way for future women's All-American Ellison Goodall to compete in track, nor how his three men's track scholarships went for women's field hockey.

With producer-director Amy Unell, Hill hopes to complete the project soon so it can premiere at festivals and find a network for distribution.

"My role has increased," says Hill, who also narrates the documentary. "The closer we've gotten to the finish line, I've been more involved."

Unell, a 2003 Duke graduate, began working on the project almost a year ago. Hill was entrenched in the regular season and playoffs as his Suns made a surprising run to the Western Conference finals.

An art enthusiast since college, Hill has staged 20th-century African-American art exhibitions. Now, he has the bug for film.

"I like inspiring stories. There's a number of them out there. I was talking to a 10-year-old. He talked about (The) Blind Side. He also talked about Glory Road. The stories behind them connect with people," Hill says. "To try and bring those stories to life, it would be kind of fun. It's just finding the right project and figuring out your game plan."

The Suns have regrouping to do, too, despite winning 54 games last season. They lost All-Star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire to free agency, then added Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick. "We have a lot of depth," says Hill, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. "It's going to take time to figure out."

No matter how successful this documentary turns out, Hill, who has his 38th birthday next week, vows it won't send him into retirement.

"As long as I'm healthy, regardless of what goes on with films or anything else, basketball is the most important thing," he says. "This might be the last year of my contract, but I don't look at it as the last year of my career."

Hot tickets: NBA owners contend they lost more than $370 million last season and need to reduce the percentage of revenue for player salaries in the next collective bargaining agreement. Yet a report in SportsBusiness Journal said the league set a record with more than $100 million in new full-season ticket revenue for 2010-11.

As of Sept. 22, clubs had added more than 50,000 full-season tickets, a 40% jump from the same date last year. With single-game tickets, the Miami Heat alone sold more than 20,000 for home games Tuesday, the highest one-day total in franchise history.

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