They are famous sons with different fathers, but they seem more like twins: similar builds, similar skills and similar backstories. Tim Hardaway Jr., a 6'6" junior guard, and Glenn Robinson III, a 6'6" freshman forward, are starters for fifth-ranked Michigan and sons of former NBA stars. For their whole lives, strangers have viewed them through the prism of their fathers' careers. It is the storyline they can't escape, and one that only a few people can really appreciate. When Robinson took a recruiting visit to Michigan two seasons ago, Hardaway was his host, and Robinson knew what he wanted to discuss. "I remember asking questions, mostly about our dads' situation, not about the school."
WHEN PEOPLE ask Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson about the best players he ever faced, he gives two names. One, of course, is Michael Jordan, in the NBA. The other is Tim Hardaway, in summer pickup games in Chicago in the early 1990s.
Robinson was an All-America at Purdue, a muscular 6'8" forward who could score from anywhere on the court. As a junior in 1993--94 he led the country with 30.3 points per game. As an NBA rookie the next season he averaged 21.9. He admits he "wasn't the best defender ... wasn't the best student of the game," but at the time, who cared? "I was just good," Robinson says. "I'm not being cocky. I scored so well that my scoring covered up a lot of my weaknesses. And I was so athletic that my athleticism covered up for my weakness on defense."
Robinson grew up in Gary, Ind., and during his college summers he traveled the 30 miles to Chicago to find better competition. He found Hardaway in gyms on the South Side. Hardaway, who had played at UTEP from 1985--86 through '88--89, was then a star for the Warriors with a crossover dribble that was so lethal, it had a nickname: the UTEP Two-Step. But that wasn't all that made him great. It was his one speed: all out.
November 19, 2012
"Every time I played," Hardaway says, "I brought it." In summer games he surveyed matchups and picked his team carefully, determined to whip everybody. If his team lost, Hardaway would stew until he got back on the court. At night he couldn't sleep.
The Big Dog was out. He was in Milwaukee with the Bucks, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 1994, or on the road in Sacramento or Boston or Phoenix or Seattle—anywhere but in northwest Indiana, where his son Glenn III wanted him to be.
Glenn III was not angry. He understood: His mother, Shantelle, and his father had split up when he was a baby, around the time his younger brother Gelen (pronounced JEE-len) was born, and his father lived in another city and played basketball. His dad called. He visited. He cared. So, no, what Glenn III felt was not anger. It was longing.
He wanted his father there ... but his father was there, on TV, rising for jumpers and driving the lane. The little boy watched Bucks games whenever he could. Afterward he went outside—just him, the basket and the ball—and played imaginary NBA games. Sometimes he pretended he was Daddy. Sometimes he pretended to play against Daddy. And sometimes he pretended he was Daddy's teammate, and he practiced hitting game-winning shots and celebrating with his father.
Tim Hardaway Sr. had everything he could want: a 13-year NBA career, a successful marriage, three wonderful kids and a house in Miami, where the Hardaways had settled after he joined the Heat in 1995. As an eighth-grader his son, Tim Jr., loved basketball, but he also loved pool parties and playing video games and hanging out with his friends. On the basketball court Tim Jr. was happy. In the stands Tim Sr. was not.
"You could just tell in his body language," Tim Jr. says. "You see your mom, your sisters cheering for you, and you see your dad with that look in his eyes, and that facial expression: Is he going to make a shot? Is he going to go out there and play ball, or is he going to just waste my time?"
Tim Sr. threatened to stop taking Tim Jr. to tournaments if he didn't take the game more seriously. And when Junior responded by playing harder, Senior rode him harder. Tim Jr. would score a bunch for Palmetto Senior High, and Tim Sr. would say it wasn't enough. Father and son would give each other the silent treatment for days. At meals they would refuse to look at each other.
Tim Jr. thought there was only one way to win the argument: make it to the pros. "You have the mind-set of, Your dad is an NBA player, so his son's probably going to play in the NBA," Tim Jr. says. "I was trying to play basketball to make my dad happy, to try to get to where he is."
But for Tim Sr. it wasn't about the NBA. It was about his own attitude during those summer pickup games in Chicago. He wanted his son to breathe the game like he had—to play every possession as if he would get kicked off the court if he lost.
Tim Sr. loved sitting on his couch and watching basketball. Tim Jr. loved it too. But Senior would sit on the couch at night, and Junior refused to join him. "My son didn't want to watch basketball with me because he was upset with what I said to him about his game," Tim Sr. says. "I didn't like that. I want my kids to be around me."
One day, at the end of Tim Jr.'s junior year at Palmetto, Tim Sr. sat near the top of the stands, away from his family, and just watched. Michigan had offered Tim Jr. a scholarship, and Tim Sr. finally saw why: His son had earned it. He found Tim Jr. afterward and said he was sorry. "That was my fault," Tim Sr. says. "I was taking all the fun away from him. It shouldn't have been that way. I should have been happy for him."
Tim Sr. promised he would change.
Glenn Robinson III never stopped longing. His father says, "He didn't have to take to [basketball] in order to be closer to me," but basketball did bring the two closer, and Glenn III loved that. He would call his dad after Big Dog's NBA games to analyze what he'd seen: adjustments to pick-and-rolls, curls in the paint, spacing—nuances even some college players don't understand.
Publicly, Glenn III distanced himself from his father's name. His high school teammates called him Tre instead of Glenn. He never pulled his socks up high like his dad did, and he was never Little Dog. But privately Glenn III kept chasing that image on his TV set.
He played football (wide receiver) until his freshman year in high school and received several recruiting letters before quitting the sport. Shantelle Clay-Erving says her son quit because he got hurt. "She thinks that's the reason," Glenn says. "The reason was, I wanted to focus on basketball." He hadn't even played varsity hoops yet. But the game had its grip on him.
Sometimes Shantelle would rebound for him, or his grandmother, Carolyn Crawford, would guard him one-on-one. Shantelle paid the owner of a gym around the block $100 a month for a key, and Glenn went there on his own to practice. He thrived as a sophomore, leading Lake Central High in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (6.5), and Michigan offered him a scholarship before his junior year.
Wolverines coach John Beilein gave one of Tre's coaches a tiny bit of advice to pass on: Glenn's shooting form was good, but he should keep practicing his shot. Beilein doesn't even remember saying it. Glenn sure does. After hearing Beilein's suggestion, he went to school at 5:30 a.m. several times a week so he could shoot 500 jump shots.
Basketball was not a hobby for him. It was not even a game. "I'd watch it with my friends, but while they're watching for entertainment, I would study," Glenn says. "I realized I may have an opportunity to play professionally."
He viewed those 500 jump shots a day and his work with a trainer as studying too. "At game time it's kind of like a test," Glenn says. "Either you know it or you don't."
In the summer Glenn III and Gelen would visit their dad in Atlanta, where he settled in retirement, and the Big Dog was amazed: More than anything else, his sons looked forward to working out with him.
Glenn and Glenn III talk on the phone regularly, and Glenn III says, "We're always talking about basketball. I don't think we talk very often about anything else. Sometimes I'll look at my brother, he plays football and wrestles.... What do they talk about?"
Big Dog did not watch his son play a high school basketball game until the end of Glenn III's junior year. His Lake Central team played a Class 4A playoff game against the No. 1 team in the state, Munster. Glenn III scored 31 of his team's 53 points, including a three-pointer at the regulation buzzer to force overtime. But Lake Central lost 54--53.
Afterward Big Dog told a reporter from the Northwest Indiana Times, "I want him to be free. I don't want him to miss a layup and see his dad and think I'm disappointed. It's not like that." Glenn III saw his father after the game and was surprised. He had forgotten his dad was there.
Tim Hardaway Jr. arrived at Michigan in 2010 and was, to use Beilein's word, "sensational." He did all sorts of things that a moderately recruited freshman is not supposed to do—start 35 games, average 13.9 points—at least partly because he was not supposed to do them. He played without worry. After dunks he would get back on defense, clap his hands and give a look that was half smile, half tongue out. He was having as much fun as anybody else on the court.
Midway through Hardaway's sophomore year, that kid was long gone. He was supposed to be a star, and he knew it. There were whispers that he might leave early for the NBA. He was the only wing player on the team who could consistently create his own shot and make it, and he knew that, too. He thought if he didn't score a lot of points, he was failing his teammates.
Beilein says Hardaway's "intensity got in the way," and even as Michigan earned a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, Hardaway was frustrated. He rushed shots, which threw his form out of whack. His three-point percentage dropped from 36.7 to 28.3.
In early February, Hardaway missed 9 of 10 shots against rival Michigan State. Three days later, at Nebraska, he drove for an uncontested layup. He thought, All right, this will get me going....
"I'm like, What could possibly be going on right now?" Hardaway says. "This is unbelievable!"
Tim Sr. saw that if Tim Jr. didn't score early, "he got lost in a lot of games." But the father kept his promise to himself and refused to criticize his son. He told Tim Jr. he looked robotic, but not as a complaint—he just wanted to help Tim Jr. loosen up. Tim Sr. offered to call the Michigan coaches and talk to them. Tim Jr. asked him not to. He wanted to fight through this slump himself.
"I just had that mind-set of going into the game trying to make everybody else happy instead of myself happy," Tim Jr. says. "That really hurt me a lot. I wasn't having fun."
Glenn Robinson III is only a freshman this season, but Michigan's coaches call him a "lights-on player," immediately comfortable on the college stage.
Beilein prides himself on being a teaching coach, and he raves about Robinson's "natural basketball aptitude.... The most impressive part: He takes it and puts it into action immediately." They tell him to rebound from a certain position, and he does it relentlessly. They explain a defensive concept, and he applies it.
Before every game Robinson asks himself a question his father never asked: Who do I have to lock down? He says scoring "is the last thing on my mind." But in Michigan's two exhibition games and its season opener, against Slippery Rock, he scored 40 points on just 24 shots, and the coaches didn't even call plays for him.
He plays without much emotion but with complete self-assurance. This has had an effect on his teammates. Especially on Tim Hardaway Jr.
"It's like he is never worried about anything going on on the court," Hardaway says. "It's just him, the basket and the ball."
No, they are not twins, and their backstories are not identical. But they fit together. Tim realizes that with Glenn and sophomore point guard Trey Burke, he doesn't have to be the star all the time. Glenn sees Tim as an upperclassman who can help him navigate the college game and college life.
In a sport that is often about where players plan to go rather than where they are, Glenn says, "My ultimate goal since I was little [has been] to make it to the NBA. I think in the end I will measure my success or failure by that point. Right now I'm just trying to get there. I look at it as, I've gotta make it there."
But Tim, who felt all that pressure to match his father's career, says, "I realized I don't have to do it for my dad. I can do it for myself. Maybe I don't get into the NBA. Maybe I go overseas. But just have that mind-set and be the best basketball player I can be."
Tim Sr. will be happy to read that. "If he makes it to the NBA, I will love him," he says. "If he makes it to be a commentator or a garbageman, I will still love him because that is my son."
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are the same height, and they are listed at 205 and 210 pounds, respectively. This makes them ideal one-on-one opponents, and when they play, the good-natured trash talk flows:
I'm gonna do you like my dad did your dad.
Thousands of people have compared them to their fathers. But when they do it with each other, it's an inside joke only they really understand.
"Every time I played," Tim Hardaway Sr. says, "I brought it."
"We're always talking about basketball," Glenn III says of his dad.
"I realized I don't have to do it for my dad," Hardaway Jr. says. "I can do it for myself."