Online Extra: Grant Hill's Artistic Score

The basketball star says it's not about investing -- his museum-worthy collection of African American pieces connects him to a cultural heritage

Grant Hill, the 6-foot, 8-inch all-star forward with the Orlando Magic pro basketball team, has an extensive art collection that will be on display at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Hill's alma mater, from Mar. 4 to July 16, the last stop on a national tour that has lasted several years.

Hill caught the art bug from his parents, avid collectors (his father is the former all-pro Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill). BusinessWeek Online Contributing Editor Thane Peterson recently spoke with Hill about his pastime. Edited excerpts follow:

Talk a little about how you went about choosing which artworks to buy. What's your philosophy of collecting?

Initially, it was a matter of being drawn to art that my parents collected. I guess that expression "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" applies here.

Do you have advisers, or do you buy what grabs you in the gut?

I guess my parents are my advisers. I bought the bulk of my collection [more than a dozen works by the late African American painter and collagist Romare Bearden] from the Bearden estate. I've been drawn to the work of the so-called African American "masters" like Bearden, which sometimes are now, I think, a bit out of my parents' price range. The collection that is out and touring was put together four years ago. I've continued to add to the collection since then.

Have you branched out beyond what you learned from your parents?

A little bit. But I haven't yet really focused on contemporary African American artists. I've mainly continued to collect the masters, many of whom, unfortunately, are no longer with us.

It's interesting that your family knows personally the great painter and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, who is 90 and has lived in Mexico for many years.

Yeah. She knew and worked with many of the artists in my collection -- and that I would like to add to the collection. We flew her to Orlando for the opening of the tour of my collection. She interacted with some middle-school art students, and my wife and father were involved. Unfortunately, I was in the hospital with a staph infection.

As my taste evolves, though, I'd like to be able to identify artists and collect artists who will be the Catletts and Beardens of the future. I'm a history major, and I've always been fascinated with those who have come before us. It's important to be able to look at history through the eyes of artists in the different stages of their lives. But, in terms of going forward, it's amazing when I talk to my parents and [Bill and Camille] Cosby, who have collected artwork for more than 40 years. They know the artists, had a relationship with them. I plan on living a long time. And going forward, I'd like to identify those artists and share with them, develop relationships, and really spend time with them as they go through different stages of the creative process.

When my career slows down and I retire, maybe -- I hope -- I'll have time to really dig into it. To move out of my comfort zone and evolve will take some time and effort on my part.

Do you buy art at auction?

I never have, no. I'd probably get too competitive. I'd probably be the wrong person to participate in an art auction. That could be dangerous.

Do you look at art as an investment?

Not at all. I'm aware, I guess, but I don't look at it from that standpoint. I haven't sold any of my pieces. These are pieces I'd like to be able to pass on -- and I hope my children won't sell them. But the investment potential isn't what motivates me.

You say you've taken a pause in your collecting. Are you feeling sticker shock as prices rise?

No. There's kind of a simple reason for it. A lot of these artworks have been out of my possession while they're traveling [from museum to museum]. During that time, I've been able to buy more pieces and display them in my home and office. When this tour is done traveling, I'm going to have too much. I have to figure out: Am I going to store some of these works and rotate them, or what? My wife's idea is to build another home, which would be the simple thing, but I've got to figure out how I'm going to manage it. I'm a little overwhelmed by the idea that the tour is going to end soon.

Why collect African American art? You're African American, but you could collect anything you want.

For me it's a reminder of just what we as a people have endured. There are talented individuals -- during the Civil Rights movement, during the 1930s and 1940s -- who at various times were able to capture the moment. I'm sure there are contemporary artists who are doing the same now.

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