Twelve years ago, Tim Hardaway made it clear: “I hate gay people.” His actions since seem to indicate he has changed his tune, but the National Basketball Association still hasn’t let him into its Hall of Fame. Should it?
Some backstory: In February of 2007, John Amaechi—who played five seasons in the NBA—became the first pro basketball player to openly come out (officially in his book, Man in the Middle) years after his pro playing days were over.
Shortly afterward, Hardaway—a five-time All-Star who played in the NBA from 1989 to 2003—was on a Miami sports radio show hosted by then-Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard (who can now be seen hosting ESPN’s series Highly Questionable).
At the end of the interview, Le Betard threw in one final question given that Amaechi was all over the news: “How do you deal with a gay teammate?”
What followed was a shocking, unapologetic answer: “I wouldn’t want him on my team, and second of all, if he was on my team, I would really distance myself from him because I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that he should be in the locker room while we’re in the locker room.”
Apparently, Hardaway was afraid of this:
And we all know how often those pickup games of hoops can quickly turn into a balls-to-the-wall gang bang. But I digress.
”You know that what you’re saying there though Timmy is flatly homophobic, right?” countered Le Betard. “It’s bigotry.”
Hardaway stood firm: “You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people, I don’t like to be around gay people…I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” (You can hear the minute-long, cringe-worthy exchange here.)
The immediate reaction from many in the NBA wasn’t supportive, and Amaechi himself weighed in. Hardaway “apologized” (far too quickly and arguably insincere), but the damage was done. And given those harsh words, it should have been (it’s still shocking now that even in 2007, a successful pro athlete who felt that way would actually say it out loud to the world).
Fast forward a decade, and The Washington Post caught up with Hardaway—noting he had become “an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights,” including working for The Trevor Project and signing a petition to legalize same-sex marriage in Florida. He also gave his support to NBA player Jason Collins, who in April of 2013 came out to became the first active openly gay male athlete in any of the four major American pro team sports (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL).
“I still cringe at it when I think about it,” Hardaway told the Post. “It hurts me to this day, what I said, and you know what? It’s going to hurt me for the rest of my life, because I’m not that type of person. I feel bad about it, and I’m always going to feel bad about it.”
And this week in an interview with HoopsHype, Hardaway said he doesn’t think he’s in the NBA Hall of Fame because of that interview in 2007: “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.”
What may be so hard for some people to overcome is the aggressive assurance of his original statement, and the fact that he was 40 years old at the time he said it—not some young impressionable athlete with no life experience, potentially parroting the beliefs of family or friends.
The Post article provides differing viewpoints on his transformation. NBA coach Stan Van Gundy (not a fan of President Trump) told the newspaper it was “a genuine change of heart.” But Amaechi, not so much. He tweeted this:
It’s strange with all that rehabilitation & angst – Tim has never found the time to actually talk to the me.
Must have been an oversight. https://t.co/QBjKuNb5Qb
— John Amaechi OBE (@JohnAmaechi) February 17, 2017
Some might argue that Hardaway’s desire to be in the Hall of Fame is so strong, he is able to repress his true feelings in an attempt to get what he wants. And there may have been interviews that addressed where his initial feelings came from and why/how he changed, but I haven’t seen them.
I’m sure locker rooms often foster anti-gay sentiment, and maybe he was just repeating the jock talk he was so used to casually hearing. Then again, at age 40, I think most people find it difficult to change inherent beliefs. I’m also a little concerned with the 2019 reflection that what he said 12 years ago “came off the wrong way.” (Is there any other way that can come off?!)
It reminds me of the same issues U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has faced. Do we see the woman who “advocated against legislation in Hawaii to combat anti-gay bullying” and worked with The Alliance for Traditional Marriage (run by her father), or do we see a woman who has earned a score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign based on her voting record for gay rights? Are these very public figures just smiling for the cameras to advance their own agendas, or have they truly had some deep self-reflection and a change of heart?
Whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not because of his playing career isn’t something I can fairly assess. But I’m a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. It’s tough to feel that way when those words are so pointedly disgusting, but Hardaway seems to have been sincere in his attempts to address and combat his past statements.
If it’s all a lie, that will eventually come to the surface. Shouldn’t we give him the benefit of the doubt and let him serve as an example to others that you can change and help pave a way for acceptance in a profession that is in desperate need of it? If we’re not willing to forgive words, what hope do we have moving forward?
What do you think? Has Hardaway truly changed, or has this all been a calculated PR attempt to change his image?