During his playing career, former NBA point guard Tim Hardaway made five All-Star Games, was named to the 1997 All-NBA First Team, and won a gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
In light of his manifold accomplishments, Hardaway was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame this past spring.
Yet, his most admirable achievement might have come off the court.
After a horrendous 2007 radio interview in which he proclaimed to hate gay people, Hardaway became a pariah and one of the faces of homophobia in the sports world.
While Hardaway initially offered a typical half-hearted apology, he privately put in the work to better understand what inspired his vitriol.
In a new interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ron Kroichick, Hardaway elaborated on how he became the kind of person who would proudly declare “I am homophobic” like it was a merit badge:
“I grew up in a church—and that’s the way churches were. They instilled in you that [homosexuality] wasn’t the way you should be. I was just taught differently. Don’t talk to them, don’t mess with them, leave them alone. I never tried to talk bad about them or do hateful stuff. It was just my upbringing in church. But I’ll tell you this: it was so wrong of me, and people have suffered. I had to grow up and really do some soul searching. What I said was just hurtful.”
Those last few sentences were the key to Hardaway’s growth. Although he recognized that his religious upbringing was a powerful force in shaping his negative views on the LGBTQ community, he also understood that the choice to speak those brutal words was ultimately his fault.
In the aftermath of that infamous interview, it was all on him to try to repair the damage he’d done.
After his homophobia went viral, Hardaway attended counseling and reached out to work with the local gay community around his Florida home.
He eventually began doing public work to benefit the community, endorsing El Paso politicians who supported same-sex partnership benefits and becoming the first person to sign a 2013 Florida petition calling for a ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage.
Both Hardaway’s private work and public efforts helped him grow into a more mature person — the kind who is now able to offer up an honest evaluation about who he was.
When Hardaway is inducted as part of the Hall of Fame class of 2022, the focus focus will be on his accomplishments with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat. But it shouldn’t be lost that he’s also become an example of Hall of Fame growth as a human being.