If the name of former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway sounds familiar to you even if you don't follow sports, there's a good reason, which I'll get to in a minute. Hardaway last week went to El Paso, Texas, home of the University of Texas at El Paso, where Hardaway was a college basketball superstar in the mid-to-late 1980s. There, he advocated for keeping domestic partnership benefits in place in the city of El Paso and argued against a recall effort being led by anti-gay activists to remove El Paso's pro-LGBT mayor and a pair of city council members for supporting those benefits. That a former superstar athlete of Hardaway's caliber would use his platform to stand up for LGBT equality is newsworthy, but not entirely surprising. What is surprising is that that same athlete just four years earlier had said in a sports radio interview, "I hate gay people," "I'm homophobic," "I don't like to be around gay people," and that gay people "shouldn't be in the world." (That's why you know the name Tim Hardaway.) The interview was in response to former NBA player John Amaechi coming out as gay in his memoir Man in the Middle. Sports Illustrated columnist Dave Zirin spoke to Amaechi after news spread of Hardaway's recent advocacy efforts.
Amaechi said that he "heard about the story. I was in contact with the people he did his 'emergency rehab' with after his 'I hate gay people rant.' They were underwhelmed to say the least. Back then his contrition seemed more to do with the financial and reputation hit he had taken in the aftermath. However, it seems to me that this is a far more genuine piece of outreach ... I hope this is a story of true redemption rather than a savvy p.r. ploy. Either way, he is at least saying the right words, and that will make a positive difference."
Zirin also spoke to the man who recruited Hardaway to UTEP, Rus Bradburd.
"It's one thing for a celebrity to apologize as damage control. But in this case, Tim has taken a much bigger step: he's pushing for the correct cause now... And the fact that he's pushing for equal rights in a place that is not exactly the national stage makes his move even more authentic."
I'd like to think the Tim Hardaway who last week went to stand up for El Paso's LGBT community is not the same one who, four years ago, said he "hated" them on the radio. I'd like to think this is a Tim Hardaway who got to know members of the LGBT community - who connected with them on a human level, and who came to the realization that it was just as wrong to want to deny this community basic protections as it was to say they "shouldn't be in the world."NBA executives have told us that Hardaway's change of heart (like his famous “crossover” move– if you will) is genuine. "He understood what he did and why it was not something we would tolerate. We had pretty candid conversations with him and his agent about the incident and once he went through the program, he came in to see (Commissioner) David (Stern) and others here to ask for his support, as he worked his way back. There was a lot of tough but appropriate love."
Hardaway himself had some words for the anti-gay activists leading the recall effort - and they're words he undoubtedly heard himself four years ago: "I would say grow up and catch up with the times." He also told the El Paso Times after he made his comments in 2007, "I opened my eyes and went to counseling."
I like this Tim Hardaway a lot better.