Tim Hardaway won’t be sitting by his phone in the next couple of days, waiting on the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to let him know his stellar career will be rewarded with a trip to Springfield, Massachusetts.
That honor will likely belong to the late Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, among others this go-round, as the class of 2020 will be announced Saturday afternoon.
Some may double-take when they realize Hardaway isn’t in, as one of the league’s most decorated and feared players during the ’90s, but he isn’t and doesn’t feel like his time will ever come.
“It would be great, solidify my career,” Hardaway said in a candid conversation with Yahoo Sports. “[But] I’m not gonna beg for nothing. I've never begged for nothing in my life.”
Hardaway, a five-time All-NBA performer during his time with Golden State and later Miami, was left off and has put it out of his mind.
He feels like he knows why, given his homophobic comments in 2007 in which he stated in a radio interview, “I hate gay people. … I don’t want to be around gay people. I am homophobic.”
Hardaway has long atoned for his remarks, apologizing and since becoming an advocate for the LGBTQ community, doing the work behind the scenes and out front, but it seems to remain a hurdle in his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.
“My grammar school coach, he said those people are very powerful and will hold a grudge against you and you'll never get into the Hall of Fame,” Hardaway said.
At first, Hardaway didn’t believe his former coach. He wanted to believe the work he was doing, the way he was vocal in his support for the LGBTQ community and owning his ignorance would account for something.
“When he said it, I thought it'll be forgiveness but as I think about it … my feelings was like, damn, I did [expletive] up, huh?” Hardaway said.
Hardaway’s education on the LGBTQ community
Having grown up in the early 1980s on the South Side of Chicago, conversations about different sexualities were taboo. And then playing in the masculine environment of the NBA didn’t leave much time for enlightenment. But just as he dove headfirst into his love of the game and even in his coaching career, he took the same approach following his hurtful words.
“I go to centers, talk to kids all the time that want to commit suicide,” Hardaway said, remarking he had two transgender family members who were initially reluctant to approach him about it. “But I had to come to them and tell them I know what you're going through and you can trust in me. What I said is what I said, but it was some stupid stuff. It should've never come out of my mouth. I love you, I support you. If you need me, you can talk to me anytime.”
If there’s a positive that’s come from this, it’s his own education. As open as times are now, they weren’t that way as recently as 15 years ago. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was an actual U. S. policy on military service.
“People say bad things [to the vulnerable], throw rocks at them. At the time, I didn't know that,” Hardaway said. “I tell these kids, don't worry about these bullies. People tried to bully me. I ran away. I told the principal, people I trusted. I told them, you gotta be confident in yourself. If you're confident in yourself, nobody can mess with you.”
Stan Van Gundy: ‘Tim was our best player’
There were few peers who could mess with Hardaway on the floor, first with Golden State as a member of the iconic “Run-TMC” crew, featuring himself, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Then later as the Miami Heat point guard, he transitioned his game following an ACL injury and still was just as feared and lethal during a time when point guard competition was abundant.
He was a five-time All-Star, making the All-NBA Second Team three times, and the first and third teams once each.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Stan Van Gundy told Yahoo Sports. “There’s a few guys who haven’t gotten in yet but will get in … but the only guys who haven’t gotten in are Tim, Ben Wallace and Kevin Johnson. Five times, All-NBA? Top 15 in the NBA and for Tim, top 10? That’s really high-level stuff. That’s being the best of the best for long periods of time and that’s generally what they look at. How were you in your era?”
Van Gundy was an assistant under Pat Riley in Miami when Hardaway was there, and when Van Gundy took the Detroit Pistons job in 2014, he brought Hardaway on as an assistant coach.
"Alonzo [Mourning] got in the Hall and that’s great, but Tim was our best player. A lot of people would tell you in Golden State, Richmond and Mullin got in, and numerous basketball people tell me Tim was their best player. I’m not saying those other guys don’t belong there, they do. I’m just saying Tim belongs with them."
Van Gundy easily rattles off names of guards who’ve gotten in since 2000: Guy Rodgers, Mo Cheeks, Jo Jo White, Joe Dumars, Paul Westphal, Sidney Moncrief and even Reggie Miller.
“So many of them, Tim’s either clearly better than or right there with,” Van Gundy said. “This guy is a star. I mean, I’m not trying to disparage anyone else who’s in there. But who you put in the Hall of Fame sets the standard for who a Hall of Famer is. How does Tim Hardaway not get in the Hall of Fame? If those guys are the standard, then how is Tim Hardaway not a Hall of Famer?”
It’s a common sense question without a common sense answer. Hardaway’s career averages of 17.7 points and 8.2 assists factor in his final three stops in Dallas, Denver and Indiana, when his knees finally gave out. The former UTEP star’s best season was perhaps 1991-92, when he averaged 23.4 points, 10 assists and two steals with 46.1/33.8/76.7 splits.
Hardaway’s game was smooth during the clutch-and-hold ’90s, when hand-checking was legal. At barely 6 feet tall, his “killer crossover” got defenders off him as he got into the lane, where he was among the best finishers for his size. And his step-back jumper was just as dangerous.
Hardaway sees Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker as players similar in terms of skill — especially Walker because they’re both the same size.
“I took my game from Isiah [Thomas],” Hardaway said. “A lot of us took it from Isiah and we passed it onto these guys. It's generation to generation. Take something you had and add it to their repertoire. People still trying to do the UTEP Two-Step or killer crossover."
It’s impossible to speak of the guards of his era, like Gary Payton, John Stockton and later, Jason Kidd, and not include Hardaway in that class.
The Naismith Hall of Fame has no accountability
Van Gundy brings up another point so many have broached: the ambiguity of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Everything is done in secret. There’s no accountability, no record for who votes or why.
Considering the NBA has leaned in on its award-voting process, making everything public, it’s a wonder why the Hall hasn’t followed suit even though the NBA doesn’t govern it.
“Our Hall of Fame, maybe more than any other, seems to be a little more political,” said Van Gundy, who’s also a huge baseball fan. “Ours is also weird anyway because it’s not a straight NBA Hall. It’s a little strange. We induct a ton of coaches and contributors in comparison to players. In baseball, there’s very few managers. It’s 90 percent players, as it should be, and ours is not that way.”
The Hall also includes important figures in the women’s game and media along with coaches and contributors, making it a more exhaustive process than just what’s done on the floor. But Van Gundy doesn’t know whom he can approach to personally campaign for Hardaway, which is all the more frustrating.
Jerry Colangelo has a large role, but it isn’t known how much he controls the process. It’s very hush-hush.
“We don’t even know what the process is,” Van Gundy said. “We don’t know how many people vote, how many votes you gotta get. I think our Hall loses some credibility with that. Its been frustrating to me as somebody who watched Tim as a first-team All-NBA guy. We couldn’t get by the Bulls or sometimes the Knicks, but we won 60 games and were a really good team.”
Hardaway: What I said ‘exceeded basketball’
It’s all the more perplexing for Hardaway, considering whenever the topic is brought up around league-sanctioned events, all he hears is support. But even then, he’s heard whispers of people who aren’t keen to let him in but won’t say it in person.
“There’s people coming to my face telling me I should be in, knowing they didn't vote me in,” Hardaway said, declining to name names while only saying Colangelo isn’t one of the two-faced members. “Just stay away from me or say, ‘That's messed up,’ or say, ‘I can't vote for you because of this and that.’ I'd be cool with that. All of this is unnecessary.”
He’ll occasionally follow his son, Dallas Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., at various stops through the league. Fans will ask why he’s not in the Hall. Then they’ll ask for advice if there’s someone in their life who’s part of the LGBTQ community.
“I'll say that was some idiotic [expletive], and I shouldn't have said that and it was stupid. It caught me off-guard and I ran with it,” Hardaway said. “And it's not me, and I'm sorry for saying it. Fans will say I just wanted to ask you that and see your face. I'm not afraid to talk about it. To talk about anything. I'll give you my truthful answer. If you do something wrong, you gotta make it right. You gotta own it, and I've been doing that all my life.”
And considering this is supposed to be a world of second chances and rehabilitation, it’s disheartening to consider Hardaway, while doing his work in public, is being kept out of the hallowed Hall in secret.
“If you ask anyone that's in the Hall of Fame, a coach or whatever, they'd tell you that's the reason I'm not [in],” Hardaway said. “It's not because of basketball. What I said took over and exceeded basketball.”
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