This is what the father taught. "Always be tough," the father
said to his son more than two dozen years ago as the two walked
with a basketball to the courts of Chicago. "Be confident, be
serious," he said, and Tim Hardaway treated the words like
gospel. He was always so tough and confident and serious--when
his knee blew apart, when the Golden State Warriors he loved
cracked to pieces, when no one seemed to want him anymore--that
his own mother never knew how bad he felt. "You're going to take
some bruises, but get right up," the father said. "Show 'em
you're not a punk or a crybaby. Show 'em you can take a hit."
This is an article from the May 5, 1997 issue
So here Hardaway was last week at Miami Arena, showing 'em all.
Here was Hardaway just before the start of the Heat's
first-round playoff showdown with the Orlando Magic, hugging
boyhood friend and rival Nick Anderson, then kicking past
Anderson and the rest of the Magic to grab the opening tip-off.
He came up with the ball, and as he pounded it on the floor, his
face was a blank, cool mask. Hardaway zipped about the court in
a whirl, whipping passes, driving the lane and spying the open
man; scrambling back on defense and harassing Orlando forward
Dennis Scott into irrelevance. His teammates began to churn, and
soon panic pulled down on the Magic like gravity. Miami was up
35-10, the NBA's biggest first-quarter playoff lead in 27 years,
and the game was all but over--except here came Hardaway again,
looking to drive the knife down to the bone.
At the defensive end he grabbed the ball at half-court as the
clock wound down toward zero and sent it flying about 45 feet.
Everyone froze to watch, but Hardaway began racing downcourt.
The buzzer sounded as the ball ricocheted off the back of the
rim, and Hardaway landed in the lane just underneath. As he
looked up into the stands, Hardaway found his father, locked
eyes with him and bellowed. And Donald Hardaway, a recovering
alcoholic whose drinking had very nearly destroyed his
relationship with his son, pointed at Tim and screamed back.
"I think he's enjoying this more than I am," said the younger
Hardaway after his team finished brutalizing Orlando 99-64.
Then, reconsidering, he shook his head; no one could enjoy this
more than Tim Hardaway. "I'm having too much fun," he said. "You
hear me? Too. Much. Fun."
Believe it. Last summer Hardaway spent his free agency waiting
as every NBA team in search of a point guard, including the
Heat, went panting after Gary Payton, Chris Childs and Robert
Pack. His reputation tattered by a scorched-earth exit from the
Warriors at midseason, the then 29-year-old Hardaway was
considered too old, too heavy and too mercurial for any
franchise to build around. Now? After leading Miami to 61 wins,
the Atlantic Division title and a 2-0 lead over Orlando in a
best-of-five playoff series--all while taking hold of a team
once considered the inalienable property of center Alonzo
Mourning--Hardaway has completed an astonishing rehabilitation.
His regular-season averages of 20.3 points and 8.6 assists only
hint at the hop in his game. This season, under the guidance of
coach Pat Riley, the man derisively called Tim Shootaway in
Oakland has played the most controlled, unselfish ball of his
eight-year career. When Riley awarded him the ultimate
playmaking accolade--the moniker Little Magic--the
transformation was complete.
"Tim has the same temperament, the same leadership, the same
skills as Earvin," says Riley. "He just doesn't have the size.
But he plays the game as much like him as anybody I've ever
That high opinion didn't come immediately. Though Hardaway
played well last season for Miami, Riley coveted Payton and
other, younger guards. Confronted with the salary cap, he turned
back to Hardaway, lowballed him with an incentive-laden,
four-year, $2.5 million contract and insisted he drop 17 pounds
and come to camp at 195. Hardaway did that and more. Buying into
a defensive system for the first time in his career, Hardaway
became a vocal partner with Mourning, calming the latter's
frequent on-court rages, imploring him to play smart, pass more.
It's no coincidence that Mourning has enjoyed his most
satisfying season. He has worked with other point guards, "but
we didn't bond like me and Timmy," Mourning says. "He's bettered
Hardaway took charge of the Heat in the way players respect
most: He demanded the ball when things got tight, and he
produced. Against the Bulls in Chicago on Dec. 7, the game was
tied 80-80 with 21 seconds left when Hardaway, in the huddle,
said, "I don't care who's guarding me, give me the ball." He
blew past Scottie Pippen, drove and, as Michael Jordan put it,
"suckered me in," then fired a pass to a wide-open Dan Majerle
for an easy three-pointer and the first home loss for the Bulls
this season. "He's been in the fire every game," says Miami
forward P.J. Brown. "He's been our go-to guy, our MVP."
"He's a very, very courageous player," Riley says. "He looks
fear right in the eye, and says, 'Get the hell out of my way. I
got something to do.'"
He is a man who thrives when he has a point to prove. This
season, motivation came easy: If he wasn't trying to show up the
teams who ignored him as a free agent last summer, the 6-foot
Hardaway was gunning for elite point guards like Penny Hardaway
and John Stockton or young guns Terrell Brandon, Damon
Stoudamire and Allen Iverson. "I take it personal; they take it
personal," Hardaway says. "Which makes it beautiful." He was out
to show Golden State it should have treated him better. He was
out to show the world it never should have doubted him. "A lot
of people wrote me off," Hardaway says. "It feels good to see
those guys who can't look me in the face now."
On the final day of the regular season, Riley gave Hardaway his
first night off of 1996-97, thereby ensuring that the most
crucial incentive clause in Hardaway's contract would kick in.
Having completed the season with a 3-1 assists-to-turnovers
ratio, Hardaway would get an extra $1 million; that sum,
combined with the $500,000 he received because Miami won at
least 45 games, boosted his salary to $4 million, which will now
become the base for his pay next season. It should have been a
moment of joy, but for Hardaway it was tempered with bitterness.
"I carry my weight, do what I need to do. I don't need
incentives," he said in the locker room afterward. Then he
shrugged. "But if that's the way I have to get it, so be it."
As he spoke, Hardaway looked just the way his father said he
should: tough and serious. But as he turned and swaggered across
the floor, the shortest man there, he finally let the mask slip.
"I'm ready to go party," Hardaway called out over his shoulder.
"I just made a cool million!"
In Chicago, where he grew up on the South Side, Hardaway was a
small kid who couldn't back off, who would embarrass you with
his quickness then finish you off with a nonstop mouth. On the
playgrounds and on the court for Carver High, Hardaway had
something else--what Nick Anderson, his rival at Simeon High,
calls "a heart as big as the moon."
In Miami it is the same. When Heat broadcaster Eric Reid missed
the March 4 game in Detroit because his wife, Lorna, had a
miscarriage at seven months, Hardaway announced, "We're going to
win the game for Eric and Lorna." He finished with 28 points
and 16 assists. The Heat won. "Never did a game mean less to
me--or more," Reid says. Says Riley: "The heart of the team."
Hardaway's departure from Golden State was more like a heart
attack. Warriors general manager Dave Twardzik calls Hardaway
"the most disruptive person I've ever been around." In 1994-95,
the year after missing an entire season recovering from a torn
anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Hardaway averaged
20.1 points per game but engaged in a bitter feud with guard
Latrell Sprewell. Hardaway began last season as a starter, but
the team stalled, and coach Rick Adelman moved both Hardaway and
Chris Mullin to the bench. Since being traded to Miami on Feb.
22, 1996, Hardaway has made no secret of his dislike for Adelman
and his staff.
"There was no communication," says Hardaway. "You're supposed to
communicate with your point guard, so he knows what you want to
run on court and when you want to run it. I don't think he had
confidence in me. I don't think he liked me from the get-go.
They thought I was finished. That's fine and dandy. It was time
for me to get out of there."
Twardzik agrees with Hardaway's final thought, but little else.
"Flat out, it's a lie that he did not know what his role was and
that there was no communication from Rick," Twardzik says. "The
problem was in his not accepting the role. As far as us feeling
he was washed up? That's absolutely a lie. The reason he was
traded is that he was very disruptive for our team."
Says Adelman, "He did things a team captain shouldn't do, things
that were totally opposite to what everybody else on the team
was doing: Walking out of practice and cussing out an assistant
coach [Rod Higgins]--supposedly one of Tim's best friends, but
he still did it. That was inexcusable. He just basically set
himself away from everybody, and it got to be a real problem."
Hardaway knows he isn't without guilt. He'll never forgive
himself for how he treated Higgins and says, "That's the only
thing I regret dearly, hurting him. Things have never been the
same and it's my fault."
How did it all go wrong? Hardaway came into Oakland in 1989 from
Texas-El Paso, and for four years keyed Don Nelson's wide-open
offense with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. But when his knee
collapsed during training camp in 1993, everything changed. He
spent a year wondering if his game would ever return, and when
he came back, Adelman presented him with what seemed the
ultimate insult: the loss of his starting spot. "I'm not a
coming-off-the-bench-type guy," Hardaway says. "I'm a guy who
goes out and gets you started, finishes it for you. Don't make
me into something I'm not."
How was Adelman, in search of mere points, to know he was
crushing a man's identity? When Hardaway was six months old his
mom, Gwen, put a toy car in his crib and his dad put in a
basketball. Tim threw out the car and laid down with the ball,
and the two have been that close ever since. First basketball
was a game he loved, but as his father took more and more to
drink and his parents argued late into the night, it became
something more. Basketball became a place to get away.
"It was always my release," he says. "When I was going through
stuff with my dad, I could get my frustrations worked out just
by playing hard--drills, shooting, playing against people. Just
taking it out on them."
Donald Pittman, Hardaway's coach at Kohn Elementary, remembers
how Tim, his best player, would want to sink into the floor
during games. "It was bad," says Pittman, now a principal at
Chicago's Marshall High. "Your father shows up at the game drunk
and screaming things out on the floor. The players were like,
'Look at Tim's old man.' They would tease him: Your father's a
But far worse than the taunting, Tim says, was seeing his dad
abuse his mother. "Hit me, beat me up," says Gwen
Hardaway--things a kid "should not see." Sometimes Pittman would
lay a casual hand on the boy and feel him trembling.
Donald and Gwen divorced when Tim was 12. By the time he left
for college, Tim had had enough, and he told his father that if
he didn't stop drinking, he wanted no more to do with him.
Donald declined to be interviewed, but Tim says his father has
been sober ever since. It took nine years, though, for Tim to
work through his bitterness and become close again with his
father. When he did he realized that the thing that bound the
two the tightest, a love of basketball, could help his father
So Donald stayed with Tim during the first two games of the
Orlando series, sat in the gym during practice, traded jokes
with his son's teammates. "It took a long time, but we worked it
out," Tim said. "I'm happy to see that his life is together,
that he stopped drinking and he's healthy."
If that sounds like a happy ending, it isn't. If Tim's mother
visits during the playoffs, Donald will have to check into a
hotel. "She hates his guts," Tim says.
Too much fun. It happened again Sunday: The Magic struggled, the
Magic flailed, the Magic took a magnificent beating. Here was
Hardaway pushing the ball upcourt, face blank, directing an
avalanche that fell this time in the second quarter at Miami
Arena. "There are very few guys in this league who can make
plays the way Tim can," Adelman says. "He sees things." That's
how it went: Hardaway seeing Brown on the break, spotting
Majerle for an easy layup, finding Ike Austin for a short
jumper--Hardaway spearheading a 25-3 run that keyed the Heat's
Yes, Hardaway said after the game, it impressed him how easily
this series had gone so far. But he wasn't shocked. No, Hardaway
expected his 20 points and 11 assists, expected to handle the
ailing Magic, expects the Heat to keep winning. "We're ready for
everybody," he says.
The arena was nearly empty, technicians spooling TV wire, lights
gone dim. Earlier in the week Hardaway had said, "I'm at a great
place in my life. I've got a great family, a nice brother, a mom
I love to death, got a father--I love him too. I'm happy." He
looks it now, walking into the quiet, a gold ring in his left
ear, so cool in a light yellow suit. His wife and daughter have
gone outside; now his five-year-old son, Tim Jr., is grabbing at
his hand and the two are walking out the door. "Good-looking
boy," someone says. Tim laughs and says, "Just like his dad!"
Donald Hardaway trails behind, a Heat towel in one hand. As the
coach said, Tim Hardaway sees what other people don't. In his
eyes, life always should have looked something like this.