There’s an old saying that "When you know better, you do better.” When you know more about arithmetic, you’re better mathematician ... when you know more about cooking, you’re better in the kitchen ...when you know more about LGBT people, you’re a better person.
And that leads us to Tim Hardaway.
Hardaway is a former professional basketball player, and he’s been a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame three times. Three times the committee evaluated his career ... which includes five NBA all-star appearances, five All-NBA selections and a gold medal with Team USA in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and three times the committee found Hardaway's resume lacking because, while he’s had an illustrious career, he’s never had an NBA championship.
And he’s also said some things ... about gay people.
Ten years ago, during an interview, Hardaway responded to a question about former NBA center John Amaechi's decision to come out as a gay man, and Tim Hardaway said:
"Well, you know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people, and 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. So, yeah, I don't like it."
I hate. I hate. Those are the kinds of words that follow you around for a lifetime, especially when said without an ounce of remorse or shame. And Hardaway now says those words will haunt him until the day he dies:
"When I said what I said ... I still cringe at it when I think about it, and still hurts me deep inside that I said something like that because I gave people an opportunity to hurt people. That wasn't right ... each and every day when I talk to kids today and they bring it up to me or somebody brings it up to me, I say that was a very big mistake on my part. 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."
After the NBA leadership heard Hardaway’s comments, they banned him from its 2007 All-Star festivities, even though he was serving as an ambassador of the league. And, even given everything he’s done in basketball, it’s those words ... I hate ... that people remember most about Tim Hardaway.
But, like I said, when you know better, you do better ... and when Tim Hardaway heard himself brag about hating people, not caring about hating people, and realizing that his vocalized hate might have spurred others on to hate the LGBT community as well, he did better.
In the years since that interview, Tim Hardaway has become an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, including working with The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that focuses on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. He was also the first signer of a petition to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Florida. In 2011, he attended a rally in El Paso, Texas—where he had been a college star at UTEP—to support that city's mayor, John Cook, who was facing an attempted recall vote—which later failed—after allowing domestic partnership rights for gay and unmarried couples.
And then, in April 2013, when Jason Collins came out as gay and then became the first openly gay, active player in one of the four major American sports, it was Tim Hardaway who called to offer support.
"I have to say, I get asked what was the most surprising [phone call] after making my announcement, and, yes, getting the call from the President [Barack Obama] ... and all of that was surprising. But getting a call from Tim Hardaway is right up there, because I didn't know he had changed as a human being, as far as being what happened with his comments when Jon came out, and now becoming an ally. It shows the power of the coming out story. It shows the power of John Amaechi's story. Tim obviously said what he said and was met with a lot of criticism and was forced to look at himself in the mirror and has changed a lot. ... I'm glad I answered the call and heard his words."
Hardaway's change was noticed by Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy—a progressive voice in the NBA who publicly decried the election of President _____ citing his concern for minorities and women—who hired Hardaway to his staff as an assistant coach in 2014.
"I think what Tim had was a genuine change of heart. ... He had those feelings, he was forced to think about it, he changed his mind, he changed his heart, and there's been nothing like that since. As a matter of fact, he's gone out of his way to be supportive of the LGBTQ community. But the way he handled it to me speaks better of his character."
It is unclear whether or not Tim Hardaway’s change of heart will affect his chances of getting into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but Jason Collins hopes the upcoming decision will focus on Hardaway's distinguished career:
"With regards to the Hall of Fame, coming from an athlete, it's about basketball, and first and foremost it's about your contributions to the game and he was one heck of a basketball player."
This year's Hall of Fame winners will be announced before the NCAA championship game on April 3, and so maybe, this year, after learning, and knowing better, after doing better, Tim Hardaway might get some good news:
"You're on pins and needles. You don't know what the process is, who is voting, how they vote. You're just on pins and needles and you hope and you wish you get in. That's all you can do. I can't change nobody's mind. I can't do anything more than I have done. ... The only thing I can do is be Tim Hardaway, and be as positive as I can be, as I normally am, and let the cards fall where they fall."
And seriously, if you base it on his talents as an athlete, it should be, to use a basketball analogy—and look at me going all sports on your asses—a slam dunk.
And if you do choose to factor in a man’s private life, his private deeds, and his public actions, it should also be a no brainer.
Tim Hardaway knows better, and he’s doing better.