The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has a new ally and his name is Tim Hardaway. The former NBA All-Star traveled to El Paso, Texas, last Thursday -- where he perfected his killer crossover dribble, also known as the UTEP-Two Step -- to stand up for gay rights. There is a group in El Paso who are trying to recall mayor John Cook and two members of the city counsel for re-establishing domestic partner benefits for both gay and unmarried couples. Hardaway arrived from Miami to speak at a press conference organized by the "No Recall" group.
"It's not right to not let the gays and lesbians have equal rights here," Hardaway told the crowd. "If I know El Paso, like they came together when the 1966 team won a championship and Don Haskins started those five [black] guys, I know the city will grow and understand that gays and lesbians need equal rights." Hardaway was referencing UTEP's 1966 national championship team when coach Don Haskins' all-black starting five made history by beating Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky squad.
Hardaway is the last person you would expect to speak out for gay rights. It was just four years ago when Hardaway said "I hate gay people" on a Miami radio show after John Amaechi became the first former NBA player to come out of the closet. Hardaway went further by adding, "I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world for that or in the United States for it. So yeah, I don't like it."
Hardaway was hit with an avalanche of criticism. He apologized, even promised to go into counseling and -- as public figures are prone to do -- pledged to change. Now it looks like he actually has.
I spoke with Amaechi to get his thoughts on Hardaway's change of heart. Amaechi said that he "heard about the story. I was in contact with the people he did his 'emergency rehab' with after his 'I hate gay people rant.' They were underwhelmed to say the least. Back then his contrition seemed more to do with the financial and reputation hit he had taken in the aftermath. However, it seems to me that this is a far more genuine piece of outreach ... I hope this is a story of true redemption rather than a savvy p.r. ploy. Either way, he is at least saying the right words, and that will make a positive difference."
Amaechi's cynicism is understandable. But Rus Bradburd, the assistant on Don Haskins staff who recruited Hardaway to UTEP, was in El Paso for the event and said Hardaway was there for the right reasons. "Tim has shown great compassion in re-thinking his position," said Bradburd. "It's one thing for a celebrity to apologize as damage control. But in this case, Tim has taken a much bigger step: he's pushing for the correct cause now, and equated the movement with Civil Rights struggles of the past. And the fact that he's pushing for equal rights in a place that is not exactly the national stage makes his move even more authentic."
As for Hardaway, he told the media in El Paso that he was a different person. "My family and friends came to me and were like, 'What are you doing?'" Hardaway said of his comments four years ago. "I talked to them and they made me understand that wasn't right."
In many ways, sports are different today than in 2007. Teams like the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs do public service announcements against anti-gay bullying. Steve Nash, Michael Strahan and Sean Avery do commercials for New York State's Marriage Equality campaign. Charles Barkley says he knows he had gay teammates and couldn't care less. Hardaway's unglamorous activism in 100-degree heat on an August day is commendable. It brings us closer to a sports world where the sexual orientation of athletes is little more than a detail. For that Hardaway deserves recognition, if not praise.
This was truly Hardaway's best crossover.