Saturday night was former San Antonio Spurs guard George Hill's first game back in San Antonio and in the AT&T Center as a member of the Indiana Pacers.
Hill was thought to be the future of the franchise by many after showing consistent growth every year he was with the Spurs.
Walking into the AT&T Center, where he was in the home locker room for the last three seasons as opposed to the visitor's locker room was very different for Hill.
"It's a lot different, you know, it's a lot different. In the main locker room we had carpet. Here we have tile so it's kind of weird," Hill said. "You normally come here as a home player, not a visitor so hopefully it turns out good, but it's going to be fun though."
It was different for the media too. It was a strange experience walking into that locker room and seeing Hill in his Pacer's blue and yellow, clutching what Hill said was about 25 tickets for his girlfriend and some local fans.
But it wasn't the first time I'd seen Hill in a different uniform. Paul Garcia and I made the 5-hour trek to Brownsville last summer to cover Hill's games with the ABA's Texas Fuel. Not that we had not seen it before, but it was easy to understand why Hill had become a fan favorite.
Instead of taking lucrative contract offers overseas during the lockout, Hill spent his time not just playing, but also teaching.
"I talked to them about different things I learned being a part of the San Antonio Spurs organization. Things I can help them to better their game with. That's what its all about, everyone trying to help everybody," Hill said then. "These group of guys do the same things we do, just maybe not get the same chances."
Hill's two-game appearance with the Fuel left quite an impact with players, who all sang Hill's praises, citing his high basketball IQ and giving them the motivation to work harder and put in the kind of work Hill does to elevate their careers.
But Hill wasn't just a favorite of those players, or local fans. He was Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's favorite player, a title Hill says he hopes he still carries.
“He worked so hard before practice, after practice, everyday and became a team favorite. (He) wouldn’t say a word in the beginning," Popovich said prior to Saturday night's game. "By the time he was traded, he was holding court on the bus and telling jokes and talking and really blossoming as an individual. It was fun to see that growth in him.”
As for leaving a situation where he was a fan favorite, Hill said the transition was difficult.
"It's always hard leaving one team and going to another one, but at the same time it's a learning experience and it's a business as you know," he said. "Going back home was a great experience for me. I got to see a lot of things and learn a lot of things, and I'm close to my family and friends who really didn't get a chance to see me a lot except for once a year so it's great for my family and friends."
Hill still keeps in contact with his former teammates and tries to keep up with the Spurs from afar.
"Of course. I talk to a lot of them. Quite a few of them," Hill said. "You're friendship is never gonna leave. You kinda keep tabs on how all your friends are doing so I talk to them all the time."
One such teammate is close friend DeJuan Blair, whom he filmed "Big N Smallz" web video shows with while he was in San Antonio.
"No, I got back yesterday so it would've been fun to do an episode of Big N Smallz but we didn't do it," Hill said.
Aside from shooting episodes, another of Hill's favorites here was Rudy's Seafood on South Flores.
"I have my own meal there. I don't know if it's still there," he said. "You gotta go check out the G Hill meal deal. It's pretty good."
I made a call to the local seafood restaurant and they confirmed that Hill's meal is still on the menu and his photos still hang on the walls.
Hill may be gone, but not forgotten, and I'm sure that extends beyond the confines of the Southside eatery.
"They always say you can switch teams, but the memories and the friendships that you create in that situation will never be forgotten," Hill said.
Spurs GM R.C. Buford put it best in an emotional press conference the night he traded Hill.
Once a Spur, always a Spur.
We all learned to love George Hill and his tenacity which he played the game. He was up to any challenge whether it be bringing the ball up the floor and running the offense or guarding the Kobe's, Lebron's, or the Dirk's. I think when Hill sealed the Spurs series against the Mavs with awesome shooting and great defense, every Spurs fan knew that Hill was the real deal. He almost single-handedly made Dirk implode with anger which was hilarious to watch. We watched Hill mature into a well-rounded player and he became yet another under the radar draft success story by the Spurs front office. If the time comes, we will definitely want our other #3 to come back!
@rtesoro440 honestly... i never thought about it. But yeah...Hill could definitely pull a Stephen Jackson and be back as a ring hungry veteran.
@CraigThomas Many people miss the big reason why and how the Spurs find these "gems". Few people don't understand or even believe what Pop means when he says "Basketball in its purest sense is a pretty simple game, and executing in different aspects of the game is what helps teams win"