Horace Grant enjoys living along California's Central Coast, where… (Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo…)
From Pismo Beach, Calif. — Horace Grant is so enchanted by his adopted home on California's Central Coast that he might be mistaken for a Realtor or tourism-council spokesman.
"It's so serene," he says. "It's such a beautiful area."
At the moment, the former Lakers forward is seated in the living room of a rented hilltop home high above Pismo Beach.
Out the window on a clear winter day, views of the jagged coastline are magnificent, stretching from San Luis Obispo Bay to the northwest, the shimmering Pacific Ocean dead ahead and, to the south, the Pismo Dunes Natural Preserve and beyond.
Later, from the deck, the 45-year-old Grant points south toward Arroyo Grande, where his home is under renovation.
Grant, whose 17-season NBA career yielded four championship rings with the Lakers and Chicago Bulls, was introduced to the area by his wife, Andrea, who grew up in Santa Maria.
She and Grant met 10 years ago in Los Angeles, where Grant was helping Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers win the second of three consecutive NBA titles.
"When we first started dating, I knew that she was the one," Grant says of his wife, "so whenever we got time, we would drive up here from L.A. to visit her parents.
"And I said, 'Wow, I could get used to this.' I loved the small-town atmosphere, the relaxed feel, and I met a lot of good people around here. And so I put my foot in my mouth and said, 'I think I might retire here.' And she held me to it."
He laughs at the memory.
Actually, he notes, downshifting from the fast pace of the NBA wasn't easy — even for a native of tiny Sparta, Ga.
"It took me a year and a half to get used to the laid-back atmosphere," Grant says, relaying the tale of an evening when he walked out the backdoor and was stunned by the silence.
It was pitch black, and all he could hear were crickets.
He wasn't sure he could adjust to the sleepy lifestyle, but his wife told him to give it a few months. If he was still uncomfortable, she promised, they could talk about moving.
"I don't know what happened during that time," Grant says, "but I just completely fell in love with this place."
Says Andrea, "Now when we go to a big city, he says he can't imagine living there again and can't wait to get home."
Grant, in fact, is searching for a 15-acre parcel in the area on which to build an athletic training center, complete with dormitories. A dedicated weightlifter, he believes that conditioning played a major role in his long and successful career.
Of course, playing with great players didn't hurt.
Wearing his signature goggles, Grant spent his first seven seasons with the Bulls, who selected the 6-foot-10 former Clemson star with the 10th pick in the 1987 NBA draft.
The Bulls, thanks to a trade, also added the fifth pick in the 1987 draft, Scottie Pippen of Central Arkansas.
Pippen and Grant were the starting forwards on Michael Jordan-led teams that won championships in 1991, '92 and '93, dispatching Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the '91 Finals.
"You couldn't ask for anyone better to push you to your limit," Grant says of Jordan. "Every single practice, every single night, he wanted that out of you."
An All-Star in 1994, Grant later reunited with Coach Phil Jackson for two seasons with the Lakers, retiring after the 2003-04 season with career averages of 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds.
In L.A., he found Bryant no less driven than Jordan.
"I don't think Kobe's going to stop until somebody out there says he's the best player they've ever seen," Grant notes, smiling. "And if Michael could come back, he would . . . just to keep people saying that he was the best player that ever was."
Nobody ever said Grant was the best, but he knew his place. Four times he made the NBA all-defensive team.
"As long as my teammates and the people who knew basketball recognized my talent and appreciated it, that's all that mattered to me," says Grant, who left the Bulls as a free agent in 1994 to join a young Orlando Magic team led by O'Neal.
Grant was "perhaps the least egomaniacal of the Bulls' players and certainly the most popular," author Sam Smith wrote in "The Jordan Rules," a chronicle of the team's 1990-91 season.
In retirement, Grant retreated from the NBA for years before agreeing last summer to participate in clinics overseas.
His travels have taken him to Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, Qatar and, just this month, Turkey and Spain.
Still trim at 276 pounds, only six pounds heavier than his playing weight, he works as a personal trainer for high school kids and coaches his daughter's seventh-grade basketball team. Sharing his five-acre spread are horses, dogs and chickens.
His goggles, which he continued to wear on the court even after laser surgery corrected his vision, are tucked away in storage with other memorabilia from his NBA career.
His rings are locked in a safe.
Inspired by Jackson — "understanding people," Grant notes, is his former coach's greatest strength — he says he'll eventually try coaching. But so far he has resisted.
Coaching, he fears, would mean less time with his family — his wife, two daughters and a third daughter due in April — and more time away from the Central Coast.
Does he get out much?
"I try not to," he says.