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FILA 95: Return of the “Grant Hill 1”

July 22, 2013by Aaron Kr.
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There’s definitely some truth to the “nice guys finish last” cliche, but in the world of sports, there are some clear exceptions to the rule. Following a rocky stretch of selfish superstars and more villains than heroes, the NBA once again has some humble, likeable young stars who make it easy to want to root for them. Amidst a sea of boisterous, edgier personalities, players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose have let their games speak for themselves, dominating their sport with a quiet confidence and modesty that has effortlessly endeared themselves to fans. Long before those guys came along, another NBA player was setting the contemporary standard for the “good guy” NBA superstar.

As the third pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, Grant Hill entered the league with an already impressive resume under his belt. He was a recent college graduate and four-year starter at Duke University, where he helped the team to two national championships in 1991 and 1992. Hill collected two NCAA All-American honors along the way and came into the league an accomplished leader and winner, with a confident maturity that pointed to an easy transition into the pros. It didn’t take long into his rookie year before it was evident that Grant Hill was a star, but while his on-court performance was easy to predict, his impact as an endorser would prove to shoot off the charts.

It was a bit of a shock that it was Fila who made the strongest move to sign Hill out of college. At the time, Fila had started to make a bigger push into the performance basketball market, but had yet to prove themselves as a formidable threat against Nike, Reebok, and the other major players at the time. They made a bold move and their aggressiveness in snatching up Grant Hill changed everything in a matter of months, as the signing began to pay for


itself right out of the gate with the huge public demand for his first signature shoe. The Grant Hill 1 instantly made Fila a strong competitor in the basketball category. Hill was an immediate favorite with NBA fans, and it translated right over to a shoe that was wildly popular with consumers. In many ways, Grant Hill’s presence legitimized the brand as a basketball force, and the appetite for his shoes quickly permeated over to an exploding demand for Fila’s other offerings from the b-ball category and beyond.

Hill helped carry the mid-90s Fila Basketball boom as far as he could, but sadly a series of unfortunate injuries derailed his eventual legacy on the court. Miraculously though, Hill was able to fight through it all, playing 19 seasons in the NBA before announcing his retirement this past June after a one-year run with the Clippers. It’s tough to speculate on what could have been had those injuries not slowed him down during his prime years, but soon Fila will be bringing back, not only his first signature model, the Grant Hill 1, but also a wave of nostalgia that conjures memories of Hill’s first year of electrifying the NBA hardwood.

In honor of the upcoming retro release, SN Select is taking a look back at the history of the shoe and its impact on the sneaker game, as well as a refresher course on one of the more impressive rookie seasons in league history. During his early years with the Pistons and Fila, Grant Hill was proof that people still wanted to root for the good guy, and now that the torch has been passed to a new generation of admirable young NBA stars, it’s fitting to pay tribute to a guy that taught them that it can actually be cool (and profitable) to be a class act.


SIGNING WITH FILA


Recognizing his potential as an athlete endorser, Fila signed Grant Hill right out of college in 1994 for a reported $6 million per year, but far more was riding on the partnership for both parties. In addition to his base salary, Hill would receive royalties on his own signature products as well as a piece of the sales from other Fila products. With those incentives already in place to help his own cause, he was also placed on a committee focused on bolstering marketing efforts and attracting additional athlete endorsers to the brand.


In addition to his roles on the hardwood and in the boardroom, Grant Hill also signed on with the agreement that a portion of the proceeds of his shoe sales go back to the community. Hill and Fila donated sizable chunks to local Detroit recreation programs, further cementing the young star’s reputation as a man of character and a shining ambassador for the professional sports world.


THE GRANT HILL 1


It would be unfair to say that the Grant Hill 1 is completely unlike anything that came before it. There are some pretty obvious design cues unmistakably inspired by the Air Jordan IX, but despite some general similarities, the first Grant Hill shoe still managed to break some new ground in the realm of basketball shoes. With a lower pricepoint than an Air Jordan, the Grant Hill 1 offered a more affordable, yet still enticing alternative to consumers who wanted to rep the shoes of one of their favorite players.


The Grant Hill 1 debuted a unique closure system with wide gillies running the length of the shoe for a custom fit and various options for lacing. Aside from the technical innovations in the construction, the ultimate standout feature of the shoe was the extra large Fila branding on the side of the outsole – a concept that soon went into heavy rotation as the brand continued to explore the possibilities of incorporating bold graphic elements on their soles while still maintaining optimum traction and flexibility.


ROOKIE YEAR


The Detroit Pistons were understandably thrilled when Grant Hill fell into their hands as the third pick in the 1994 NBA draft. Hill was a class act and a proven winner, and it appeared the sky would be the limit for his potential as a instant contributor on a talent-starved Pistons roster. It didn’t take too long into the 1994-1995 season before it was obvious that Grant would not only step right into action, but exceed expectations every step of the way.


In his rookie campaign, he led the team in scoring with 19.9 PPG along with a well-rounded tally of 6.4 rebounds and 5 assists. Despite Hill’s best efforts, Detroit fumbled through an ugly 28 win season his first year, but it was clear that he was a reason to keep the faith and be hopeful for the future. The Pistons had their first post-Bad Boys era superstar and a new face of the franchise that fans could be proud to call their own.


1995 ALL-STAR GAME


If you were asked to name some of the most popular NBA players from the star-studded mid-90s era, chances are that Grant Hill might not be one of the first names that comes to mind. With so much talent and so many big personalities in the league at the time, it’s easy to overlook Grant Hill’s popularity when looking back, but in 1995, the NBA All-Star ballots told a different story.


Not only was Hill the first rookie in NBA history to lead the league in All-Star votes, he was the first rookie in all of the major sports to claim the honor. The fans got their wish as Grant Hill started the game, putting in 10 points and 3 assists for the East in 20 minutes of action, all the while with his first signature Fila shoe along for the ride.


IMMEDIATE IMPACT


The overwhelming fan support in the All-Star voting was a strong indication of how the fans felt about Grant Hill, and the love continued to spread as the league co-signed the sentiment by presenting him with a co-Rookie of Year honor, to be shared with fellow rising star, Jason Kidd. While it’s safe to say that no one wants to share a ROY trophy, history has proven both players to be in pretty good company if it’s any consolation. While Hill and Kidd were placed on even ground when it came to who was the best rookie, in terms of marketability and endorsement potential, it was clear that Grant Hill was the resounding choice of the people.


Following the conclusion of the 1994-1995 NBA season, Fila reported that the Grant Hill 1 model had moved 1.5 million units, making it the fastest selling signature basketball model since the Air Jordan franchise and an instant force to be reckoned with in the market. Fila recognized the potential of their young star and re-upped with Hill in 1997 for a whopping seven-year $80 million dollar deal, that placed him ahead of fellow up-and-comer Allen Iverson and again second to only Michael Jordan as the highest paid NBA sneaker endorsers at the time.


NUMBERS DON’T LIE


When Grant Hill first signed with Fila in 1994, the brand was still somewhat unproven in the performance basketball arena, but soon after his arrival, that all changed in a hurry. The release of the Grant Hill 1 popularized the brand at a rate that no one could have predicted. The success of the GH1 trickled down to a surge in demand for other Fila basketball models and eventually opened the door for Jerry Stackhouse and others to come aboard for a chance to ride the wave.


According to a 1997 CNN report, Fila’s U.S. athletic footwear sales went from $391 million in 1993 to a staggering $856 million in 1996, and it was Grant Hill undeniably at the source of the retail explosion. While a younger generation may be introduced to the Fila Grant Hill line with the retro return this year, back in the mid-90s, they were everywhere you looked and an undisputed Hall of Fame juggernaut when it comes to that immeasurably fruitful era of basketball footwear.


FILA 95 RETRO RELEASE


Both the white/navy and all black original colorways of the Grant Hill 1 are set to return to boutique retailers on September 19th, followed by a Finish Line release on the 26th. Check with your local spots for availability and stay tuned to Sneaker News for all the latest breaking updates.


Please note that the tongue on the white/navy pair seen here will change on final production to look like the originals – with the “F Box” in the middle of the tongue as it appears on the black pair.


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