This Friday will see longtime Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning receive the honor of being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Mourning becomes the first player associated primarily with the Heat to being enshrined in Springfield.
However, while Mourning was the Heat’s first real centerpiece, it was the acquisition of another former All-Star that helped legitimize the franchise as one that would be a force for the near-future. Mourning is deserving of his enshrinement, but he had some help in the Heat’s success.
Friday will be Mourning’s moment.
But will Tim Hardaway ever get that same moment?
If there ever was a year for Hardaway to be inducted in to the Hall, it would have been this one. Joining Mourning and former Golden State Warriors teammate Mitch Richmond on this year’s ballot would have been a special thing to be a part of. But special moment inductions aren’t typically a thing voters consider when they choose Hall candidates.
He was the spark-plug of the famed “Run TMC” days of the Warriors, playing alongside Richmond and Chris Mullin. His “killer crossover” was a move many tried attempting whenever playing basketball. In his first four years, Hardaway averaged 20.6 points and 9.8 assists per game for the Warriors, before a terrible knee injury cost him the entire 1993-94 season. He would still have to deal with lingering effects of that injury, as he played in only 62 games during the 1994-95 season, but still managed to score 20.1 points and 9.3 assists per game.
Heat president Pat Riley then made his second blockbuster trade while on the job, acquiring Hardaway in February of 1996. Riley found an All-Star point guard to pair up with his All-Star center, while Heat fans found an exciting player that was more than willing to take big shots and carry the team on his back. Just the thought of him raining those threes in Game 7 of the 1997 Eastern semifinals vs. the Knicks still brings a smile to my face.
Hardaway helped Mourning lead those Heat teams of the late 90’s to the playoffs five consecutive seasons, which included three 2-seeds in the East, a 1-seed, and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997. For Heat fans, that period was their first taste of basketball success, and the Heat were staking their claim in the sports landscape of South Florida.
But there would be heartbreaks. A lot of heartbreaks.
Fans shared those playoff shortcomings with Hardaway and Mourning, first against the Chicago Bulls, then against the New York Knicks. Those series’ against the Knicks, which included first round upsets in 1998 and 1999, has cast a dark cloud over that era. That period ended with Hardaway’s trade to Dallas in the summer of 2001 and from there the rapid decline of a once great player would commence.
He put up solid numbers (career 17.7 ppg, 8.2 apg) mostly in an era that was grind-it-out, low-scoring defensive affairs that weren’t exactly beautiful basketball, so he does have a statistical argument to be inducted.
However, it’s the failure of the Heat for not consistently advancing deep in the playoffs that are a slight on his record. Unlike Hardaway, Mourning’s resume includes two All-American selections while at Georgetown (including Defensive Player of the Year his senior season), a seven-time All-Star, two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and an NBA title. There’s enough hardware there to go along with his 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game to help give him the nod over Hardaway.
But for Heat fans, he helped the franchise grow from a stumbling expansion team, to championship contender. For five years, Miami was in the argument with Chicago (well, as close as you can get to being in an argument with the Bulls), New York, and Indiana for top teams in the Eastern Conference. That’s something Heat fans couldn’t even dream of five years prior. I’ve said it before that a generation grew up with the Heat, and Hardaway and Mourning helped bring them along.
Quick personal story: I had the chance to meet Hardaway back in 2002. It’s interesting to meet someone who you’re a fan of growing up; you’ve built this person up as a mythical figure, that you can only hope they live up to your expectations (I’m terrified of ever meeting Dan Marino, for that reason). The thoughts running through my mind were things like “Please, please don’t be a jerk” and “Don’t call him ‘Penny’”. Turns out, he was a really nice guy. Easy to talk to about random things – we talked about the Miami Hurricanes and his television job with ESPN. After about 15 minutes, I told him I was always a big fan and he made those Heat seasons incredibly fun. He said that he appreciated it, and extended his hand out for me to shake. It was a cool moment.
Hall of Fame voters tend to have careful consideration for moral causes, and Hardaway has a moment of terrible morality on his record. He made homophobic remarks on local radio, which brought on a firestorm of criticism. The NBA would remove him from the All-Star Weekend’s activities, as they did their best to put some distance between the league and Hardaway. As a fan, I was disappointed in his statements, as I imagine many Heat fans were.
What you may not know, though, is how he’s made attempts at educating himself and becoming an advocate for gay rights, as well as wanted to be the first signer on the petition to legalize gay marriage in Florida. He reached out to Jason Collins, who announced before the 2013-14 season that he was gay, and showed his support. You can say he’s doing this for PR purposes, but I’ll believe that he’s sincerely making himself a better person.
He’s still a big part of the Heat family, as he’s a member of their front office, and has his number hanging in the rafters of the American Airline Arena.
No, he’s not perfect, and he probably wouldn’t say that he was. Hardaway has made mistakes and now is working to redeem himself. He’s been counted out – on and off the court – and has risen to the occasion. That’s the Tim Hardaway I’m going to remember.
Oh, and those threes in Game 7. Can’t forget those.
On Friday, the moment will belong to Alonzo Mourning, and deservedly so.
I just hope Tim Hardaway gets his moment soon.