Grant Hill, who turned 40 Friday, is the second-oldest active player in… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
The kinder, gentler Clippers went easy on the new kid in class.
Of course, the new "kid" turned 40 on Friday.
There were no walkers or rocking chairs pulled out on the court for forward Grant Hill, and he said he didn't even take much verbal abuse. There were, however, cheerful-looking birthday cupcakes from the team's staff, forming the number 40, and one candle.
"I don't think I'm 40. I don't feel 40. But I guess I am," Hill said, smiling after practice. "In particular, when you do this, at least in sports with a lot of young people, predominantly 20-year-olds, so you're around a lot of young folk, young people. You forget … it sort of helps to prolong your adolescence."
He happens to be the NBA's second-oldest active player, younger than the Knicks' Kurt Thomas by one whole day. Thomas and Hill have played for a combined 13 teams in the NBA with the Clippers being team No. 4 for Hill.
Hill's Act 3, in Phoenix, was a revelation.
"I think when I left [Orlando] to go to Phoenix back in '07, I thought maybe I'd play two more years and call it a day," said Hill, who signed with the Clippers as a free agent in July. "I'm excited to be able to continue to play, to be part of a unique situation here. I don't think anybody sets their sights on playing till 40. But it just kind of happens."
Hill was out for 17 games last season, primarily because of knee issues and knee surgery, but he missed only three games, total, in the three seasons prior.
Talk about impressive, considering, at 30, playing for another decade was a distant dream for him.
"When I was 30, there were some rough moments and uncertainty related to my career," Hill said. "I'm trying to think, 2002, that was probably my third surgery. My ankle surgery."
"I try to block out those years. To be able to overcome that and still play 10 years later is something I'm proud of."
The long journey — next week's trip to China — will be preceded by a short hop to Las Vegas as the Clippers play the Nuggets on Saturday in their preseason opener.
Guard Chauncey Billups, continuing to recover from last season's Achilles' tendon surgery, took part in some drills again.
"Chauncey practiced a little bit more which was good to see," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Every day is a little bit different.
"A little bit at a time. See how he responds to it … and then just continually add to it. He was good today — makes a difference when he was out there, no question."