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CNN Sunday Morning

Interview with Janet Hill, Grant Hill, Mary Masio

Aired May 12, 2002 - 09:15   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Mother's Day. Today we celebrate mothers in as much as it is mother's day. The women who helped shape us into what we are today. A documentary called "Apple Pie," also focuses on mothers and the athletes they raised. It airs tonight on ESPN; it looks at several athletes and their mothers, including one very famous member of the Orlando Magic.

And, joining me now to talk a little bit more about this project, Grant Hill, his mother, Janet, and, the filmmaker, Mary Masio (ph). Good to have you all with us this morning. And happy mother's day.

Let's start with the mother in question here, Janet Hill, on this mother's day. First of all, happy mother's day to you. They call you "The General." In particular, on this mother's day, would you take that as a bit of a diss, or a compliment?

JANET HILL, MOTHER OF NBA STAR GRANT HILL: Oh, it's absolutely a compliment. You know, I was tough as a mother of Grant when he was a young child, but that all ended when he was 18 years old.

O'BRIEN: Grant, I love that line in the documentary where you asked, rhetorically, did I cry when I left home for Duke. Without a pause, you said, no way. Is your mother that tough that you had to get out of Dodge?

GRANT HILL, NBA STAR: Well, I mean, I was excited to move on and go to college and experience life as a undergrad at Duke University. But I still was close to my parents; I still got a chance to see them a lot. My parents were strict; my mom was very strict and we did call her "The General." But, it was time for me to take on what I'd learned from home and go on to the real world. And, so, I experienced that in college and there were no tears on my part, and I don't think there were any tears on my parents' part, either.

O'BRIEN: Let's back up a little bit and talk, Janet, about your background. You were raised in New Orleans, a self-described, B.A.T. -- black American princess. Let's listen to the tape for just a few moments as it addresses this subject.


JANET HILL: On September 9, 1965, I left New Orleans for Wellesley College, which was all-female and all-white. I decided, this is not the right place for me. I don't fit in here. GRANT HILL: Being one of five African-Americans, it was a culture shock for her.

JANET HILL: My mother said, you will tough it out, you will not run away from school, you will extend the benefit of the doubt to these young women. And, in fact, she was quite right.


O'BRIEN: Janet, going to Wellesley College. How big an eye- opener was that for you, and how much did that change the way that you ended up being a mom?

JANET HILL: Well, I don't know how it changed my ending up being a mom, because I think I got a lot of my mom skills from my mom. But, Wellesley was a complete culture shock for me in 1965, and not the least of which is that it was a very integrated setting with a lot of white people and I had never met anyone white until I got to Wellesley. Until I was 18.

O'BRIEN: And -- do you think that -- you don't know how that changed the way you parent then, necessarily?

JANET HILL: I don't really know that it did because, unfortunately, Wellesley didn't teach me to parent. College doesn't do that. It's something you have to learn on the job.

O'BRIEN: That is one of those courses that I missed as well. Let's bring the filmmaker in here. Mary Masio, Grant and his mom, just a pair of many athletes and their mothers whom you chose to...

MARY MASIO, FILMMAKER: ...and a wonderful pair.

O'BRIEN: And a wonderful pair at that. And we don't just say that cause they're here. It's a 90-minute special; tell me how you got the idea.

MASIO: I was a former Olympian and my mother was always "Mary Masio's mother." And I felt that she never got the credit that she deserved for my successes and she always helped me through my failures as well.


MASIO (on camera): This is really a film about unconditional love. And the theme running through all of these pieces is -- and what struck me most -- was the unconditional love that all of these mothers had for their athletes and when I asked Grant what he loved most about his mother he said her unconditional love for me.


O'BRIEN: Grant, did you say that without a cue card there?

GRANT HILL: No, it -- I did say that, and it comes from the heart. And all that tough love as a child growing up -- I appreciate it now that I'm a parent. And, I'm taking on the challenge of being a father. But, yes, definitely, the unconditional love as a child and even now as an adult.

O'BRIEN: Well, now, as I saw in this excellent documentary -- when you came into the world, you came in with a clear statement shall we say. Let's look at the tape for just a few moments.


JANET HILL: My labor with Grant was memorable. (Laughs). Grant was nearly twelve pounds. Aaahhh is the operative word for the entire labor. When Grant was a young child, he looked as if he was older than he was.

GRANT HILL: I wasn't normal. And, I craved to be normal.

JANET HILL: And, people always expected him to speak and act as if he were the age that he looked.


O'BRIEN: Janet, -- 12 pounds! 12 pounds. How -- gosh -- all kinds of questions come to mind, but I guess you knew right away that your son was unusual.

JANET HILL: Well, he was unusually big, and grew very fast, and he was always large for his age, although he was only six feet at the age of 12. And I remember he said he asked Patrick Ewing, who is now his teammate, how tall he was at 12 and Patrick told him he was six feet, so Grant was convinced he'd be 7 feet 2 inches. That he'd followed the same geometry -- geometric growth -- as Patrick.

O'BRIEN: So basketball, Grant, then, sort of pre-ordained when you realized you had this kind of height, or did it happen accidentally? How did it all come to pass, and how did your mother fit into this whole -- the specter of this wonderful career you've had?

GRANT HILL: Well, as you said I was a chubby little baby and then I kind of stretched out by the age of five. And from then on, I was always taller than people my own age. My dad played professional football, so I always wanted to play football but I was just too tall and too skinny. And, I tended to excel on the basketball court, and I just continued on with that and I'm where I'm at today.

As far as my mother, you know, she's not too coordinated. She's not a great athlete. She thinks she -- she knows the game, and she knows sports, but she can't walk and chew gum at the same time. So, I don't know if I inherited my athletic ability from her, but I think my personality and my mental side -- the mental side of the game I inherited from my mother.

O'BRIEN: And to that end, I want to show you just a little example of Janet Hill's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Let's roll the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GRANT HILL: When my mother would watch one of my games as a spectator, the thing that comes to my mind is "loud."

JANET HILL: I'm a very good fan.

GRANT HILL: She's insane.

JANET HILL: I am never abusive.

GRANT HILL: Yeah, she gets on the refs all the time.

JANET HILL: Now and then, I do address the refs.

GRANT HILL: She knows all the good sayings.

JANET HILL: Especially if I feel that Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are ref'ing the game.

GRANT HILL: But it's all in fun. She doesn't care. And she's like, hey, I paid my money, I can say whatever I want to say.


O'BRIEN: Janet. Are you being -- are you using good manners when you go to see Grant's games? You being OK, there, to the referees?

JANET HILL: Oh, I think we have to correct the record. I am an excellent fan. I do sometimes address the game in general. And I have to occasionally remind the refs of ref'ing 101. And rule books. And sometimes they miss something. But, I mean, it's impossible to see everything even though there are three of them out there.

O'BRIEN: You're just trying to help them out.

JANET HILL: So I'm only there to be helpful. I'm only there to be helpful.

O'BRIEN: Grant, I've got to ask you: have there been occasions when you've looked up in the stands and seen your mom there, making sure the ref understands all the rules properly. Have you been -- kind of covered your head and go, oooh, Mom, just give it a rest?

GRANT HILL: Well, when I played in Detroit, I had seats on the court. Really on the floor. And, so, I could hear my mother during the game. And, at the time in Detroit it wasn't really loud in the arena, so my mom would have one of her outbreaks I, like everyone else in there, really, could hear her. So, that's a little embarrassing; it kind of takes you back to when maybe you're 12 years old and you're playing in a small gym and your mom and dad are yelling. Well, my mom -- she's -- she didn't yell back then, but for some reason she gets on the refs and yells now. But the good thing is she doesn't yell at me. So, I'll take that any day.

O'BRIEN: All right. Quickly, it's mother's day. Grant, what do you want to say to your mom? GRANT HILL: Just happy mother's day, mom. I love you. And, I'm just glad you're my mother and I wish you the best and I wish I were there with you but I will be there with you soon. I gotta get my little daughter; she's not old enough to fly yet. But we all send our best to you and to Grandma, happy mother's day.

JANET HILL: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: That was really nice, Grant. You know, I got goose bumps going here. All right. That was nice. Grant Hill, Janet Hill, Mary Masio; thanks to all of you for being with us on CNN Sunday Morning on this mother's day edition.

MASIO: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: And, that interview taped yesterday, on Mother's Day eve. You can see the entire documentary, which I do recommend. It is on another network and I know the bosses don't like it when we do this, but it's on ESPN, 7:30 p.m. Eastern tonight.