Born: September 1, 1966
Position: Point Guard
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1989-’96
Miami Heat (NBA): 1996-2001
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 2001-’02
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 2002
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 2003
Yes! Yes!… YES! In your face!
That’s the kind of bravado that defined the career of Tim Hardaway. Hard as it is to believe, his game did speak louder than his words. The brash pinball whirled and barreled his way into a decade-long all-star sojourn in the NBA. The bravado and talent persevered despite a treacherous ACL tear that robbed him of his most brazen athleticism midway through his career.
Luckily for Hardaway and basketball fans, the least brazen of his athleticism was still pretty brazen.
The 6’0″ (on a good day with thick socks on) guard was an electrifying sensation when he burst into the NBA with the Golden State Warriors in the 1989-90 season. Hardaway completed the fabled, but short-lived, triptych of Run-TMC with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Warriors coach Don Nelson drove those players to push the ball at insane speeds and to score at any given opportunity.
Hardaway loved the philosophy. He revved up the pace and left defenses in ruin with his patented crossover move, the UTEP Two Step. In their second season together (1990-91), the Run-TMC trio hit their apex winning just 44 games in the regular season but advancing to Western Conference Semi-Finals in the playoffs. Hardaway (25.2 PPG, 11.2 APG, 3.1 SPG), Richmond (22.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG), and Mullin (23.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 1.5 BPG) were all superb in the playoffs, but coach Nelson pulled the plug on the trio.
Richmond was traded for the draft rights to forward Billy Owens. The Warriors won 55 games in the ensuing season, but were dismissed from the playoffs by Seattle in a first-round upset.
Despite the loss of Richmond to trade and then Mullin in 1993 to injury, Hardaway upped his production and was absolutely on fire averaging 22.7 points and 10 assists a game from 1991 to 1993. He was an All-Star every one of those seasons and was also honored with an All-NBA 2nd Team selection in 1992.
Then Hardaway’s career was put in jeopardy as he tore his ACL prior to the 1993-94 season. Fortunately, the injury ultimately didn’t derail his career, but it did force alterations to Hardaway’s game. The lightning fast crossover no longer fired as quick. So instead Hardaway resorted more and more to his knuckleball jump shot to augment his decreased penetrations to the basket.
A trade to the Miami Heat midway through the 1995-96 season totally reanimated Hardaway’s career. The move to Miami put Hardaway under the tutelage of Pat Riley who exhorted an exacting defensive style that slowed the pace and slogged the opponent into submission. With Alonzo Mourning manning the middle, this style tapped Hardaway’s nasty streak, extracted the most out of his altered playing style, and landed him on the All-NBA 1st Team for the only time in his career in 1997. The dynamic Zo and Hardaway duo propelled Miami to the Eastern Conference’s second-best record that season.
Despite finishing with 61 regular season wins, the Heat struggled to put away the frisky Orlando Magic in the first round that season, needing all five games to dispatch their Florida rivals. In the East Semis, the Heat fell behind three-games-to-one against the hated New York Knicks. The Heat nonetheless stormed back to win the series in seven games. In Game 7, Hardaway bludgeoned the Knicks with 38 points, seven assists, and five steals. The 69-win Chicago Bulls waited in the East Finals and dismissed the Heat in five games.
That five-game defeat was the closest Hardaway got to the NBA Finals. Over the next three seasons the Heat lost to the New York Knicks every postseason. By the end of these heartbreaks, Hardaway was in his mid-30s and nowhere near the spark plug of his 1990 breakout or of his 1997 comeback.
As his production slid from 18 PPG and 8 APG in the late 1990s to 14 PPG and 7 APG in the early 2000s, Hardaway became expendable for the rebuilding Heat, especially after Mourning was weakened by a battle with kidney disease. The Heat traded Hardaway to the Dallas Mavericks for the 2001-02 season. He made two more brief, unremarkable stops in Denver and Indiana before retiring at the conclusion of the 2002-03 season.
Despite the ignominious ending to his career, Hardaway’s breakout and comeback deserve remembrance. Only Oscar Robertson reached 5,000 points and 2,500 assists faster than Hardaway did on the breakneck Warriors. That comeback campaign with the Heat was just as impressive as a sage Hardaway gamely mustered 20 points and 8.5 assists on one of the slowest, methodical offenses the NBA has ever seen. He had a style and perseverance to man two completely different offensive styles and succeeded in each.
Whatever the pace, you could always count on Tim Hardaway to be in your face.
All-NBA 1st Team (1997)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1992, 1998-’99)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1993)
5x NBA All-Star (1991-’93, 1997-’98)
NBA All-Rookie 1st Team (1990)
Regular Season Career Averages (867 games):
Playoff Career Averages (56 games):