Tim Hardaway was a five-time All-NBA selection and five-time All-Star whose No. 10 is retired by both the Miami Heat and UTEP. He’s currently a Hall of Fame finalist who won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA in 2000 and, over the course of his 13-year NBA career, totaled 15,373 points and 7,095 assists (which ranks 16th all-time in NBA history). Since retiring, Hardaway served as an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons. Most recently, he partnered with Dream Dribble, which has a product that allows players to silence their indoor dribbling and improve their ballhandling.
HoopsHype caught up with Hardaway to discuss his playing days, the best ballhandlers in the NBA today, his stint as a coach, why he hasn’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame, Dream Dribble, the joy of seeing his son Tim Hardaway Jr. follow in his NBA footsteps and more.
You were such a fun player to watch and you’re known for your excellent ballhandling skills. When you look at today’s players, who do you feel is the best ballhandler in the league?
Tim Hardaway: If I had to pick somebody right now, I’d pick Kemba Walker. He’s got a handle like I got a handle. (Laughs) He doesn’t exaggerate it either. When I say he doesn’t exaggerate it, what I mean is he doesn’t shake somebody and then try re-shake them – he just goes right by you. He’s going to do one move and go right by you. That’s the way I was taught: Do one move that shakes the guy and then go make a play at the basket. When you start doing too many moves on one particular play, on one particular possession, you’re exerting yourself too much. It’s unnecessary. Just take care of business right then and there – shake the guy and get to the basket. That’s what Kemba does.
James Harden plays with it a little bit too much. Kyrie Irving plays with it a little too much. Instead of making the play and then going straight to the rim, they’re thinking of [the highlight]. But it’s still cool to shake someone one time and then get right to the rim! You don’t need to shake a guy multiple times on one possession. Like I said, that just exerts too much energy.
I’ve talked to players who mentioned that they studied your handles. What does it mean to you to have influenced this next generation, and do players often talk to you about how impacted them?
TH: Yeah, some players will say something when they see me. It’s very special to hear from these guys who are taking the game to another level – guys like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, James Harden, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and John Wall. I’ve had players come up to say, “You were one of the greats,” or, “You had handle on that ball that was ridiculous and I tried to get my handle like yours.” I always appreciate it and it’s great to hear those guys say that kind of stuff about me.
You’re obviously respected, but given what you accomplished throughout the course of your career, do you ever feel underrated?
TH: You know what, I don’t look at it or think about it. I let you all look at that and talk about that. The way I look at, I came in and played the way I was supposed to play. I gave my team confidence and put my team in position to win each and every night. I had a lot of fun because I love the game of basketball. That’s what I’m all about. I’ll let you all say if I’m underrated or overrated or this or that. I will say that there are a lot of guys who are underrated who don’t get talked about enough. I can name a couple of guys, like Rod Strickland and Kevin Johnson. They were some pioneers who played the game the right way too. They had great handles, got to the rim and made plays for their teams. They are underrated, yeah.
Was there a particular time in your career that was the most fun?
TH: Those Run TMC days with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin were a lot of fun. We weren’t together for a long period of time, but while we were together, we had a lot of fun. It wasn’t just the games; even when we were playing in practice or just hanging out around each other, we had so much fun. We just weren’t together long enough; our stint was very, very short. We only had a year and a half or two years, whatever it was, so it was very, very short. [Note: Run TMC started in 1989 and ended when the Golden State Warriors traded Richmond on Nov. 1, 1991].
My six years in Miami were great too, though; I have to mention those too. I loved playing for Pat Riley. I had three great coaches – UTEP’s Don Haskins, Golden State’s Don Nelson and Miami’s Pat Riley. They all taught me so much and they gave me the keys to their offense, to their team, and they let me run with it. They had a lot of confidence in me and let me be the catalyst. With Riley, the team was always prepared, always ready to play. You understood exactly what you needed to do out there on the floor and you were focused. He also made sure everyone was healthy and in great shape to go make plays. The Run TMC days and my six years in Miami were so much fun, no question, and I wouldn’t trade [those experiences] for the world.
Was it frustrating when the Warriors broke up Run TMC and do you wish you guys had been able to play together longer? And if you had stayed together longer, would you guys be talked about more as one of the best trios in NBA history?
TH: Yes, I’m sure we would’ve gotten more love if we had stayed together longer and I wish we could have stayed together longer. When Mitch was traded, that was the end of us and what we had going on. If Mitch would’ve stayed, we would’ve gotten Alton Lister back healthy – he had tore his Achilles. If we had stayed together and had Alton back healthy that next year, we would’ve done something. It was short-lived, but that’s what happens. That’s the business of the NBA. It hurt us at that particular time and we never did fully recover [as a team], to tell you the truth.
Today, I hear some people say, “Oh, Warriors fans are a bunch of bandwagon fans.” I think Golden State’s core fans are really loyal and passionate. I saw that fan base show tremendous support year after year for struggling teams. Sure, there are some bandwagon fans in recent years, but that’s the case with any great team. Based on your experiences with Bay Area fans, how do you react to comments like that?
TH: I take exception to that and that’s like a slap in the face. Warriors fans are not bandwagon fans. Warriors fans are just like Boston Celtics fans, just like New York Knicks fans, just like Los Angeles Lakers fans. These are really loyal fans who understand the game. They’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. They’ve seen some great teams and great players, but they’ve supported the team when they’ve struggled too. They really understand the game – they know who can play, who can’t play, who’s dogging it. These fans are very logical and smart. They’re basketball people. When people say they’re bandwagon fans or say they aren’t loyal to the Warriors unless they’re winning, they’re just wrong and I take exception to that. That’s a slap in the face. It’s not right. These fans are loyal! I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. They cared for us back when we were playing in the ‘90s and they helped us win games. They were always there for us and embraced us with open arms. Anyone saying those things is wrong. If you’re saying those things, you don’t know the Bay Area fans and you haven’t been out here enough.
You’re a Hall of Fame finalist once again. What would it mean to you to get inducted into the Hall of Fame?
TH: It would mean a lot. Making the Hall of Fame solidifies your career and everything that you accomplished on the court. I get joy from when fans come up to me and talk about how much they enjoyed watching me play. One fan told me, “I wish my kid could’ve watched you play.” That brought me a lot of joy. Things like that put a smile on my face. Getting into the Hall of Fame is [similar validation]. It would solidify my career.
This is your fifth time going through this process as a Hall of Fame finalist. Is it frustrating going through it several times and not getting inducted? And is there part of you that doesn’t want to get your hopes up just because you’ve already been let down before?
TH: Well, you know, the reason I’m not in is because of what I said in 2007 about gay people. That’s why I’m not in right now, and I understand it. I hurt a lot of people’s feelings and it came off the wrong way and it was really bad of me to say that. Since then, I’ve turned a wrong into a right. My parents used to always tell me, “If you do something wrong, look it in the eye. Don’t back down from it and be scared of it. Go make it right and make people understand that you made a mistake.” And that’s what I did. I’m trying to do what’s right, supporting gay people and transgender people. I want people to understand [what they go through] and understand them as people. They shouldn’t be seen as “other” people. You shouldn’t call them [derogatory names] or look at them all ugly. Those are people too. They should get to live their lives just like we live our lives and that means having freedom and having fun. They should get to enjoy their life the way they’re supposed to enjoy life… I’ve talked to people from the LGBTQ community [and I tell them], “You’re supposed to have the same rights that we have and supposed to be able to do everything that we do. You shouldn’t be outcast.”
Life is too short to be out here hating one another and trying to hurt one another. I understand that. But, yeah, that’s the only reason why I’m not in [the Hall of Fame] and I understand that. There’s nothing I can do about it. You got to take your bumps and bruises, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I just try to be positive. It hurts. But, hey, I understand the ramifications of [what I said]. I understand why I’m not in. All I can do is keep living. My parents also always told me, “You can’t control what you can’t control.”
You worked as an assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy with the Detroit Pistons from 2014 to 2018. What was that experience like and how was the transition from playing to coaching?
TH: It was… interesting. I can say that. It was very interesting. [Today’s] guys don’t think the game the way [I] think the game. Very few of them prepared the way [I] prepared or the way you’re supposed to prepare for the game. You have to come up with different ideas to try to get them to understand how to prepare for games and how to work on their craft and how to get better. You have to come up with a variety of things that make them understand that stuff. [Another example is] watching film – understanding how to watch film and how to get better from watching it. That was a big thing. I give coaches credit. Now I understand what coaches have to go through to make the players understand how to get ready for games and be ready to play and sustain themselves for an 82-game season. I commend coaches for what they do each and every day. A lot of ball players [don’t realize how hard coaching is]; I didn’t know until I got into it. Coaches eat, sleep and drink this game. This is their life and I commend them for the job they do.
Why do you think today’s players have a hard time preparing for games? Do you think it’s because they’re too distracted?
TH: Yes, no question. Social media, first of all. Social media is all over the place. The first thing they do when halftime comes, they come in and look at their phone. They’re looking on social media to see what people are saying about them. When the halftime meeting is over, they’re back to looking on social media to see what people are saying. The game is over, they’re back to looking on social media. The [postgame] meeting is over, they’re back to looking on social media. They always want to know what somebody is saying about them. That’s how the game has changed.
A lot of them can’t take constructive criticism. Their own teammate or coach can try to offer constructive criticism and they’re like, “Who are you talking to? [scoffs]” They’re ready to fight or ready to get in a big argument. They don’t want to accept constructive criticism. These guys didn’t grow up the way we grew up. We grew up hard-nosed. We had to grow up in a different way than the kids had to grow up today. And now with these kids, most of them grew up in a nice environment because [their parents] didn’t want them growing up like they grew up. There are a lot of aspects to it, a lot of variables. Some of these guys did grow up tougher than other guys today, but the ones who did grow up tougher have a different mindset when it comes to how to play and how to approach stuff. The ones [who had it easier growing up] have to work their way into being tougher and playing the game tougher and [succeeding] when nothing is given to them.
Your son, Tim Hardaway Jr., had a lot of advantages that other people didn’t have. How did you ensure your son wouldn’t have this issue and how did you approach his development in general?
TH: Well, with AAU, I sent him to Chicago play with the Mac Irvin Fire and those guys in Chicago kind of taught him, “This is how we play and this is how we go about playing.” They’re tough – they play tough, they play hard and they win games. That’s what they’re all about. You have to throw them in that fire to make them understand how the game should be played. You’ve been missing out on this toughness, missing out on your own teammates getting in your face and holding you accountable and saying, “Hey man, pass the ball,” or, “Shoot the ball,” or, “Go dunk on that guy!” That’s what teammates are all about. You just have to throw players in the fire and see if they’re ready to take on that challenge.
Not many players have a father who played over a decade in the NBA and won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA. After everything you had experienced and seen during your career, what were the biggest lessons you wanted to teach your son?
TH: My biggest advice… The biggest thing I realized with Tim was that I had to back off. I was too hard on him. I was on him to a fault. I was getting on him for things he wasn’t even doing wrong. I had to back off. I had to check myself and tell him, “Look, I need to stop getting on you. I need to ridiculing you and chastising you. I’m being too negative.” I realized that I just needed to be a dad and enjoy the games and if he wants to talk about the game, then we can talk it. If he wants me to show him some things, he can ask me and I’ll show him some things. If he wants me to come shoot with him or put him through a workout, he can ask me and I’ll do it. But I needed to back off and let him learn on his own and let him decide how involved I should be. I was taking the initiative and trying too hard to push things on him so he’d go out there and play the way I wanted him to play. I needed to let him decide how he wants to play. That was the biggest thing for me.
That’s tough because you think you’re helping him and you obviously want to see him succeed.
TH: Yeah, but I was definitely hurting more than I was helping. I also realized I was pushing him away from the game. I was pushing him away from me, which I didn’t want. That’s when I took a backseat and shut up. To this day, I do the same thing. I don’t talk to him about the game, unless I know something is wrong with him. If it seems like that’s the case, I’ll say, “Hey, you alright? Is something wrong? Are you okay?” But that’s it. I just talk to him about life and everything away from the court. He has enough [people talking to him about his game] with his coaches and teammates and everyone else. I don’t talk to him about that. I just talk to him about life, and it works for us. We have fun. We enjoy it.
I’m glad you guys figured that out and it sounds like coming to that understanding really helped your relationship. You must be proud to see everything he has accomplished. How rewarding is it to see him in the NBA and see him have this kind of success?
TH: It’s very rewarding, no question, and I’m ecstatic every time I see him play. I get emotional. I’m so into the game when he’s playing. When he misses a lay-up or misses a free throw or a wide-open jump shot, I’m clapping my heads and [muttering] stuff. I always want him to do well. I always want him to go out there and play with confidence. But I also always want him to have fun when he’s out there playing. When you’re having fun out there, that’s when you’re playing well. You aren’t going to play well every single time, but you can still have fun whenever you play this game.
I’m excited to see this Dallas Mavericks squad at full strength with a healthy Tim, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. What do you think of this Mavericks squad and how good they could be next year?
TH: Not only will they all be healthy, they’re going to try to get a free agent in there this summer to help them out. That’s going to be really good for the team. I think you’d have to put them right back up there [in the Western Conference]. Not at the top, but right in the middle of the Western Conference. They just need to put it all together and they need to get off to a strong start to the season. They need to start, like, 8-1 or 7-2 and then go from there. And hopefully they can stay completely healthy all of next year.
We talked about your previous stint as a coach and how it wasn’t the best experience. Are you interested in coaching again or did you get your fill of that?
TH: Here’s what I want to do: I want to be in a front office, working as a general manager or assistant general manager. I want to help put a team together. I know how to evaluate talent. I know who can play and who can’t play. I know the Collective Bargaining Agreement really well. I know how to put a team together. I feel like I know talent. If I can’t do that, I’d like to go coach at the college basketball level. I’d be interested in getting a head coaching job at a college. I’d like to do one or the other.
When you were younger, how did you work on your ballhandling skills?
TH: I’m from Chicago and in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, we bought a house and it didn’t have a finished basement. During the winter months, I used to go down in my basement and just dribble the ball around. We had beams down there and I used to act like the beams were players, and I’d be crossing them over and putting the ball between my legs while going past them. It was a very tight space; my shoulder would brush up against the beam when I’d run past them. That’s how I started getting better at dribbling, just by going down there and working on it. I didn’t have anything else to do! All we had was Atari and three stations on TV. (Laughs) Unless there was a basketball game on or unless I had homework to do, I’d go downstairs to work on my handle.
When I was walking around my neighborhood, I’d always be dribbling a basketball too. We’d play games where guys would try to steal the ball and I’d have to get to a certain boundary on the sidewalk by dribbling around them and the grass was out of bounds. So I’d be dribbling in this tight space, trying to get between two or three people on the sidewalk. Then, when I was out there on the court playing actual basketball games, I could tell my dribbling was getting better. That’s how I worked on my dribbling and, eventually, I got to the point where I could do whatever I wanted with the ball whenever I wanted.
You recently partnered with a company called Dream Dribble that has a product (the Dream Silencer) that allows players to silence their indoor dribbling and improve their ballhandling skills. How did that come together?
TH: I was at the New York Knicks’ game on Christmas Day and I got a text from Dylan Kaufmann and Eric Braunstein saying they wanted to talk to me about a silent dribbler. I was like, “A silent dribbler? What the hell are they talking about? What is that?” Just out of curiosity, I agreed to hear them out. We did a video call and they showed me exactly what they were talking about. As they were showing it to me, I’m thinking, “Wow, this is remarkable. These two young guys came up with a device that can help kids work on their dribbling, on their fundamentals, without making noise in the house.” When you’re a parent, you tell your kid you don’t want them dribbling in the house because it makes a lot of noise and may break stuff. With this, I think it’s something that can catch on and allow kids to dribble indoors and it’s going to help a lot of kids work on their game.
Not only is it nice because it silences the dribbling, this device helps the kid work on their ballhandling skills when he or she is not in a gym or at practice. He or she can be watching a basketball game on TV and working on their dribbling skills and use this device to try to duplicate the moves they see on TV. Dribbling is all about repetition, so this can help enhance your game too. Being able to practice indoors, without making any noise, is beautiful. If you want to put in extra work away from the gym, if you’re a kid who can’t get a ride to the gym, if you live somewhere it’s freezing cold outside, this is the perfect thing to have so you can improve your dribbling indoors.
(Kaufmann told HoopsHype that he and Braunstein are basketball-clinic instructors who launched Dream Dribble in 2016. They were thrilled when Hardaway got involved: “We were watching Knicks-Bucks on Christmas Day and the camera cut to Tim Hardaway Sr. in the crowd. I told Eric, ‘We need to get Tim Hardaway.’ We connected over text. The next day, he saw the product over video and said, ‘Let’s get to work.’ We became partners and, two weeks later, we filmed the commercial with him.”)