[Here’s a short, but well-done, profile of Golden State’s Tim Hardaway. Fran Blinebury wrote the profile for Street & Smith’s 1992-93 Pro Basketball Yearbook, and Hardaway certainly lived up to the article’s high praise that season, averaging 21.5 points and 10.6 assists per game. But in October 1993, Hardaway would tear his ACL and sit out the next season rehabbing the injury. As this article shows, Hardaway wasn’t going to let an injury define him in his prime. He came roaring back, about as strong and “bulletproof” as ever with Golden State and later Miami. I’ve added a Hardaway crossover video just for old times. Just for the record: Hardaway’s crossover was great, but Archie Clark’s was even better!]
Tim Hardaway, owner of that infectious smile, level-headed outlook on life, and the meanest crossover dribble in the NBA, wasn’t always the master of his emotions. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Hardaway was coddled by his grandparents. He would stomp and snort and pout if he didn’t always get his way. He was booted out of one elementary school; at another, he was constantly being sent to the principal’s office. From there, he was frequently taken to the basketball court, where Tim was permitted to run around and get all of the pent-up energy out of the system. Owen Hardaway, his mother, remembers one note that was sent home from the principal. It read: “Watch Tim. He plays exceptionally well in basketball.”
Watch Tim, indeed. Watch him burn up the nets for the Golden State Warriors. Watch him beat the best defenders in the NBA with another crossover-dribble move. Watch him set up teammates Chris Mullin or Billy Owens with another perfect pass. Watch this tiny bundle of dynamite quickly become an all-star by his second season and draw comparisons to some of the best who have ever played the game.
“Tim was never a rookie,” said Warriors coach Don Nelson, who turned over the reins of the offense to Hardaway by the second half of his first season in the league. He certainly never played like a rookie. Only Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson totaled more points and assists in his first two seasons than Hardaway. Few others have his confidence.
“I feel like when I’m on the court, that’s my court,” he said. “Especially at home. I feel like I can do no wrong. If I want to slide from halfcourt all the way to the baseline, I could do it. That’s how I feel. Like I’m bulletproof.”
The rap on Hardaway coming out of Texas-El Paso in 1989 was an inability to hit the outside shot, which is why Nelson was able to make him a steal for the Warriors midway through the first round of the draft. His accuracy was said to be affected by his shooting form, which admittedly is something that you will not see taught at any basketball clinics. He is all arms on his shot, his right elbow cocked out to the side, and the ball has practically no rotation as it heads toward the basket.
“I told him that as long as he could make it, I didn’t care how it looked,” Nelson said. “If it got to the point where he couldn’t make it and it was affecting his shooting percentage, then maybe we would have to make some major changes. But he made it early, and he’s never stopped making it, so we never had to have the second meeting.”
Hardaway has been listening to the skeptics since his high school days. “People have always questioned whether I could make the place consistently,” he said. “So, I just worked on it, worked on it, worked on it. Now a lot of those same people say, ‘Oh, he can make the shot. You can’t leave him open at all.’ That’s the way I want it to be.”
That’s the way it was for Hardaway’s father, Donald, who was a star on the playgrounds of Chicago and once had an offer to try out with the Bulls. But he turned it down, because it would have meant too much time on the road and taken him away from his family. Hardaway’s father would take Tim to the playgrounds in neighborhoods all over Chicago, the good ones and the bad, exposing him to the serious players and the drug addicts. It was a not-so-subtle lesson in the way Tim should lead his life. What he also learned there was to pursue basketball aggressively.
“I remember the way those guys went at it,” he said. “Even if your wrist or your arm was broken, you’d be out there playing, because you could still shoot with the other hand or you could just play with the pain. The first time I saw my father play, he dunked on a guy. He shot a bunch of jumpers, and he just played real tough. That’s what I saw, a certain kind of toughness that he always took with him into the game.”
His parents divorced when Hardaway was 12 years old, but his father still keeps in constant touch and delivers evaluations of his performances. There were also other lessons delivered by the likes of Chicago playground legends Isiah Thomas and Maurice Cheeks, who preceded Hardaway to the NBA. Those older pros told him what it would take to make it. He listened well.
Hardaway was a kid who had many different teachers. There was his grandmother, Minny Eubanks, who was an inspiration until her death in 1990. That season, Hardaway wore her initials printed on his sneakers. There was also his high school coach, Bob Walters, who became a surrogate father after his parents’ divorce. Walters was the one who was finally able to get the intense, driven Hardaway to relax and begin to enjoy himself on the basketball court. Walters died of cancer at age 40, while Hardaway was attending college in El Paso.
But the sense of joy that Walters instilled is one that the sparkplug guard carries on today.
You see it in the way his face lights up after he nails a three-point shot or dishes off an assist. You see it as he goes up and down the floor carrying on a running conversation with the opponent who is trying to stop him.
“Sure, I’ll talk to the other guy,” Hardaway said. “If you start talking stuff to me, then I’ll start talking stuff to you. The thing is, when you talk, you’ve got to talk under control. I learned that from playing in Chicago. Back on the playgrounds, that’s an everyday thing. Whenever you go to the playground, you’re going to be talking.”
Now so much of the talking is about Hardaway. About how far he’s come and how quickly. “He’s in the top three at his position,” said Michael Jordan. “There’s Tim, John Stockton, and Kevin Johnson.”
“I thought I would probably come off the bench my first year and second year, and I was hoping I would start by my third year,” Hardaway said. “But things just started to happen, and I handled it well, and I showed that I was ready for it. Now, I want to be known as the best point guard. I think every point guard wants that—to be known as the best or one of the best in history.”
With a smile, the crossover dribble, and a handle on his emotions, Tim Hardaway is certainly on the right path.