John Grant Jr. won an MVP, an NLL Championship and led the Rochester Knighthawks to two other NLL Finals appearances while playing in the Flower City from 2000-2010.
Now, he’ll be remembered in Rochester forever.
On Saturday, Grant Jr. was inducted into the Knighthawks Hall of Fame and had his jersey No. 24 raised into the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial rafters, signifying a symbol of gratitude for the best player in franchise history.
It’s the first jersey retired by Rochester in the team’s 25-year history.
“It’s quite humbling,” said Grant Jr. “It a tremendous honor. Some of the best players in the league have played for the Knighthawks at one time or another. I’m really excited and proud that the franchise is doing that.”
Grant Jr. was initially selected by the Buffalo Bandits in the third round of the 1995 NLL Draft but chose to attend college instead.
He attended SUNY Morrisville his freshman and sophomore seasons before transferring to the University of Delaware. There, he won the USILA National Collegiate Player of the Year his senior year by scoring 56 goals and dishing out 54 assists.
“The reason (I didn’t join Buffalo) was I felt like the most important thing for me was to go to school and to have a degree,” said Grant Jr. “I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now had I not done so.”
Rochester, coming off a Finals appearance the year before, chose Grant Jr. with the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. In his first season, the Peterborough, Ontario native finished with the third-most points in the NLL with 77 (37 goals and 40 assists), behind only two NLL legends in John Tavares and Gary Gait.
Grant Jr. took home Rookie of the Year honors and was the first rookie named to the All-Pro first team in nine years. He helped lead Rochester back to the 2000 NLL Finals before ultimately falling to the Toronto Rock for the second straight year.
From 2000-2008, Rochester finished with a winning record seven times and finished .500 twice.
Former Knighthawks defenseman Regy Thorpe played with Grant Jr. from 2000-2009 and spoke at the ceremony in Rochester Saturday night.
“He was huge for us. To have a generational player and someone with his skill level join our team after the success we had – I mean, it was a game changer,” said the future New York head coach and general manager. “We kept getting close (after winning the NLL Cup in 1997) and then Junior helped us solidify going on those championship runs.”
Except for 2004 (when knee surgery limited him to five games), and 2009 (when he missed the entire season due to an infection in his surgically-repaired knee) Grant Jr. finished in the top three in points every year except for 2010 while on the Knighthawks. He led the league in goals (51) and points (111) in 2007, winning MVP honors.
That 2007 season is known as one of the best individual seasons and one of the best seasons put together by any team in league history.
Rochester started 2-2 before rattling off 12 straight wins to finish 14-2 and a perfect 8-0 at home. They defeated Toronto, 10-6, in the Division Semifinals, before overcoming a three-goal fourth quarter deficit to defeat Buffalo in overtime, 14-13, in the East Finals.
In the NLL Finals, Grant Jr. scored three goals and added five assists in a 13-11 win over the Arizona Sting, winning the NLL Championship MVP.
To Grant Jr., the wins over Buffalo and Toronto were sweeter than the Finals win over Arizona. Each of the prior four years, the Knighthawks had been eliminated by either Buffalo or Toronto in the playoffs.
“As we got going our team started to bond,” said Grant Jr. “It was probably the closest team I was ever on. We loved every moment we could together. Getting through the East was very tough and that overtime goal against Buffalo was almost a championship for us.”
Grant Jr. holds many Knighthawks records including most points (894) and goals (433) and is second in franchise history in loose balls (902) and assists (461).
He also ranks at the top of most NLL records. But at one point, it looked like Grant Jr.’s career – and life – were in jeopardy.
In late 2008, his surgically repaired knee became infected. The doctors told him having the knee amputated was a possibility. The doctors also told Grant Jr. there was a possibility he may not make it out of surgery alive.
Ultimately, the surgery was a success and he spent 40 days in the hospital in recovery, but had to sit out the entire 2009 season.
In 2010, he finished with 39 goals and 44 assists for (to that point) a career-low 83 points.
In 2010, Rochester traded Grant Jr. to the Colorado Mammoth in a blockbuster deal. With the Mammoth, he won his second NLL MVP in 2012, becoming only the second player in league history to win an MVP award with two different teams. He spent seven seasons in Colorado before retiring after the 2017 season.
“I think it says a lot about his determination,” said Georgia coach Ed Comeau who coached Rochester to the 2007 NLL Championship about Grant Jr. continuing to play well late in his career with Colorado. “Great players find a way to reinvent themselves to continue being great players and I think he did that. It just shows how good he was as a player and committed he was to his craft. It gave a chance for people to continue to watch one of the all-time great players.”
As emotional as the retirement ceremony was on Saturday, having to play against the Knighthawks multiple times a year as a player on another team would have been just as hard.
“I kind of knew the trade was happening with my age and injuries and Rochester wanting to get younger,” said Grant Jr. “I just didn’t want to play in the East because it would have been tough to play against Rochester two or three times a year because they were so close to my heart. I think it would have been really tough on me.”
Grant Jr. ranks second in league history in goals (668) and points (1,446), fifth in assists (778) and seventh most in playoff points (111).