By Jeff McDonald
Five months after being traded to the Indiana Pacers, George Hill was back on a San Antonio basketball court on Sunday afternoon, back in a black No. 3 jersey.
Except it wasn’t a Spurs jersey. And it wasn’t the ATT Center.
With the NBA lockout still in full bloom, Hill was in town to play point guard for the Texas Fuel.
“I know San Antonio misses some basketball,” said Hill, one of the Spurs’ most popular players in his three seasons with the team. “I wanted to give the fans something to do during the lockout.”
Haven’t heard of the Texas Fuel? You’re likely not alone. The Fuel is the name given to the American Basketball Association team that plays at the Alamo Convocation Center.
They are a professional team, to be sure, but about as far a leap from the NBA as the Alamo Convocation Center is from the currently unoccupied basketball gym the Spurs call home.
The ball — like the iconic sphere used in the ABA of the 1970s — is red, white and blue. A DJ blasts music while the ball is in play (sample playlist selection: Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.”) About 500 people were on hand Sunday to watch the Hill-led Fuel beat the Hill Country Stampede — a team, incidentally, based out of Big Spring — 113-93 in the team’s opener.
“It’s not the Spurs,” Hill said. “But it’s still basketball.”
Or, as Fuel officials are fond of saying: “It’s the only game in town.”
The Fuel’s roster is filled mostly with small-college castoffs holding on to a dream. Hill was the only player in uniform Sunday to have appeared in the NBA, and likely the only one who ever will.
The team’s leading scorer was De’Andre Hall, a 6-foot-7 combo forward who played collegiately at Texas Southern. He had 34 points and 11 rebounds.
More content to facilitate than score, Hill recorded his first pro triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 17 assists.
“I was just trying to get my feet wet again and get up and down the floor,” he said. “At the same time, it’s all for fun. I’m not out here to embarrass anybody.”
Hill hooked on with the Fuel as a favor to a friend, Marlon Minifee, one of the team’s co-owners. It gave him something to do during the lockout, which next week will enter its fifth month.
To pass the time, Hill has been working out in S.A. and Indianapolis. He shared the South Texas portion of his workouts with a slew of former Spurs teammates, including All-Stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
Though it cast the 2011-12 season in dire jeopardy, Hill said he supported the union leadership’s decision to push the lockout into litigation last week. He didn’t care that the NBA’s most recent collective bargaining proposal was not put to a full vote of the membership before the union decided to take its fight to court.
“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your family,” Hill said, specifically praising union president Derek Fisher. “If that’s sacrificing what you make for a year to get the best deal possible — not just for us, but for the guys coming in after us — it’s worth it.”
The prospect of missing an entire season hasn’t caught Hill off guard.
“You knew this was coming,” said Hill, who has earned more than $3.2 million in his short career. “I paid attention during rookie orientation when they said, ‘Save your money.’?”
Still, Hill would rather be earning a paycheck in the NBA right now.
Instead of spending Sunday facing the Pistons in Detroit, Hill found himself running point guard in a half-empty gym that houses SAISD’s high school teams. He might be back soon. He wouldn’t rule out a return engagement with the Fuel.
“It depends on how much Icy Hot I have to use after this game,” he said.