If you ever watched NBA Inside Stuff with Ahmad Rashad, you were pretty familiar with one of the opening sequences. “What’s up! What’s up! What’s Up!” An energetic, young point guard from Chicago yelling at the camera.
Tim Hardaway was always a showman on and off the court. Drafted by the Warriors with the 14th overall pick in 1990, Hardaway came in and took the high-octane Warriors by the reins. A team that already had established stars, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin, The Warriors become an instant, must-watch ticket in the Bay Area once Hardaway was drafted. His patented “Killer Crossover” was his signature move that left defenders jumping out every which direction allowing for easy layups or creating lanes for assists. That rookie year, he finished to David Robinson for Rookie of the Year and it was obvious he would be a star in the league for years to come.
In the next four years, Hardaway did not average below 20 points or nine assists making him one of the most unique point guards in the league for the fact he could dominant scoring or distributing. The fact that he became the second fastest player, behind only the great Oscar Robertson, to 5,000 points and 2,500 assists supports Hardaway’s dominance in both categories early in his career. The Warriors would go on to win as many as 55 games and advance to the second round of the playoffs in his third year, eventually losing to the Lakers.
But, Hardaway would tear the ACL before the beginning of the 1993-94 season. At that time, the Warriors roster was considered very up and coming despite the setback of the infamous Mitch Richmond – Billy Owens trade. The roster had Hardaway, Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, future All-Stars Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber, the #1 overall pick of the draft. However, this group would never play together as Webber was traded following the season due to clashes with Coach Don Nelson.
Hardaway was visibly and statistically a different player following the knee injury. The signature explosiveness was gone and he was relegated to more of a distributor and three-point shooter for the rest of his career. The Warriors eventually traded Hardaway during the 1995-96 season to the Miami Heat for a sack of basketballs and Rony Seikaly. Despite his injury, Hardaway helped lead the Miami Heat to numerous playoff appearances as well as multiple appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. He eventually retired in the 2003 season after compiling over 15,000 points and 7,000 assists (career averages of 17.7 points and 8.2 assists per game).
For Warriors fans, Hardaway will be remembered as the catalyst of Run TMC. A fun-loving, spark plug that was a blur as well as a wizard with the ball. In many fans’ eyes, Hardaway’s game was very much ahead of his time. The crossover and trash talk that accompanied his game would have made him extremely hard to guard in the era of no hand-checking and personal branding. He had the game and personality to be a superstar in today’s game. Even when he played, had he not gotten injured, he would have been Chris Paul-esque, capable of dominating games despite being the smallest guy on the floor. For today’s fans who watch and1 mixtape highlights, Hardaway was their forefather, crossing up defenders in an embarrassing fashion and letting everyone know it happened. Just watch.
Side story: As I wrote with the Mitch Richmond piece, I was able to attend Warrior Basketball Camps or clinics as a kid growing up in San Jose. Tim Hardaway also attended those functions and I was able to meet him on multiple occasions, probably close to a half-dozen. He was by the most charismatic and gregarious of any player I have met.
So anyway, my story with Hardaway is that I got to play one on one with him to one basket at one of these camps. On my first possessions, he let me go by him (I think, I was like nine at the time) and I was so nervous that I airballed a wide open jumper. He took a turn and missed. I got the ball back and hit about a fifteen footer for the win. Camp goes crazy. Tim smiles, plays a few more campers, not losing. So, he asks if any parents would play. An older gentleman raises his hand and Tim picks him. The kids begin to whisper to each other, “Oh, that’s Jerome’s dad.” Tim goes turns to the campers and says, “Who’s dad?” Everyone points and I raise my hand slowly with a smile. Tim turns to my dad and says, “Oh, you’re getting nothing easy.” My dad tried hard (as hard as a 40-year-old after back surgery could) but Tim made sure to leave with a win against one Keene that day.