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 despite a treacherous ACL tear that robbed him of his most brazen athleticism midway through his career.
Never fear, though. The least brazen of Hardaway’s 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 triptych with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin that formed Run-TMC. 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. From 1991 to 1993, Hardaway was absolutely on fire averaging 22.7 points and 10 assists a game.
Hardaway’s career was put in jeopardy after he tore his ACL prior to the 1993-94 season. Fortunately, the injury didn’t derail his career, but it did force Hardaway to alter his game. The lightning fast crossover no longer fired as quick, so Hardaway resorted more and more to his knuckleball jump shot.
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 and the guard landed on the All-NBA 1st Team for the only time in his career in 1997 as the Heat finished with the Eastern Conference’s 2nd-best record.
Miami reached the Conference Finals where they lost to the Chicago Bulls. The 5-game defeat was the closest Hardaway got to the NBA Finals. Over the next 3 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.
His NBA breakthrough was the stuff of legend, though. 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 paced offenses the NBA has ever seen.
Whatever the pace, you could always count on Tim Hardaway to be in your face.
Seasons Played: 1990 – 2003
All-NBA 1st Team (1997)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1992, 1998-’99)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1993)
5x All-Star (1991-’93, 1997-’98)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1990)
NBA - 867 Games
17.7 PPG, 8.2 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 43.1% FG, 78.2% FT
12th All-Time in 3PT FGs, 14th All-Time in Assists
12th All-Time in APG