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Friday, December 17, 2010
Tim Hardaway on Knicks-Heat rivalry: "We scratched and clawed"

By Jared Zwerling

Miami's "Big 3" is nothing foreign to former Heat point guard Tim Hardaway. For two seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Hardaway was part of Run-TMC, a high-scoring trio that also consisted of All-Stars Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. While LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combine for 65.3 points per game, Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin scored 72.5 ppg during the 1990-91 season. Hardaway, who is now a community liaison for the Heat and runs his own community-based foundation, talked about his streaking team that has won 10 straight and reminisced about the Knicks-Heat rivalry from the late 90s.

What are your thoughts on the Heat so far this season?
I’ve been to all the games. I think the media is really taking it a little bit too far. They wanted to see [success] right away and a lot of people don’t understand that it’s a process, and the process is coming along. Some people -- fans and the media -- didn’t like how slow it progressed, but it’s progressing and I think that everything is looking brighter.

What do you think has changed with the team?

I think everybody’s healthy, first of all. I think that the guys were trying to wait until Dwyane [Wade] caught up with the team after he got hurt [in the preseason]. The team is looking very good now. Everybody knows their role, everybody understands what they’re supposed to do out there on the court and how they’re supposed to do it. And that’s where it’s supposed to be. Everybody has to understand what they bring to the table, and they understand that now.

It has to be exciting to see your former coach Pat Riley assemble such a star-studded team?
Oh yeah, he’s a very special guy. You can’t say nothing bad about what Pat does. You can’t say enough about what he does. First of all, he’s a great person. Second of all, he’s a great leader and he knows what he’s doing. He knows how to put a team together and he knows what it takes to win a championship. He’s been there and done that before.

So let me throw this out to you: It’s your 1996-97 Heat team that won 61 games versus this year’s Heat team. Who comes out on top?
We do (laughs). I would never go against them. Never. I’ve been to battles with them, I’ve been in the trenches with them, we did a lot of stuff together, so I can’t ever go against my team in 96-97.

Do you guys ever get together for reunion games?
Nah because everybody lives elsewhere. Jamal [Mashburn] lives in Miami, Voshon [Lenard] lives in Detroit, P.J. Brown lives in New Orleans, me and Zo [Alonzo Mourning] live here. So it’s kind of hard. But when we see each other at an All-Star Game or something like that, we kick it and have some fun.

How about staying in touch on Twitter and Facebook?
Nah, we don’t do none of that. I know Zo doesn’t Facebook or Twitter. We don’t do any of that stuff. That’s for the teenagers (laughs).

So give me your greatest memory from those rivalry days?

Well, of course, when we beat the Knicks in Game 7 [of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals] at the [Miami] Arena [when Hardaway scored 38 points]. Just the rivalry itself was good for everybody, both cities, for the NBA, for the fans, and we had fun with it. I enjoyed it to the fullest.

Take me back to December 3, 1996. What was it like playing in the Garden for the first time as a member of the Heat?
Oh, man. It’s an interesting conversation because I went back to Golden State and we won, we went to Phoenix and we won because of Dan Majerle, we went to New Jersey because of P.J. Brown and we won, and then we went to Charlotte because of Zo and we won. So when everybody went to teams that they were at before getting traded to the Heat, we won. Pat came out and told me, "You guys got a win in your cities where you came from. I haven’t gotten one here yet. Why don’t you fellas get one for me?" And I went out there and we beat them pretty bad that game [99-75]. I think it was on ESPN or something like that. So that was big for all of us.

In the locker room before the games, what insights did Riley give you guys about his former team?
Well, I can’t tell you a lot of that stuff, but I can tell you that he got us ready and got us understanding the ramifications of each game, and how it’s supposed to be played out. He always had us prepared for that and we understood what we had to do when we got out there and played.

Initially the rivalry started when Riley went from New York to Miami. But was there a game or specific moment that you think really heated up the series?
Just that game when P.J. Brown and Charlie Ward scrapped a little bit [in Game 5 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals]. I think that intensified everything and made the rivalry to where it was.

Were you big into reading what the media was saying surrounding the games?

I think we were all big on that. Everybody read and listened in to the coaches. Everybody wanted to hear what somebody had to say and how they were saying it because that’s the way everybody is. You’re not human if you don’t want to listen to what people have to say or what your coach has to say, and what your team or the other team has to say. But nobody said anything to intensify [the rivalry]. Everybody made sure they kept their cool, made sure that they weren’t trying to put up any bulletin board stuff -- just go out there and play and play hard, and do the things to get the win. You had to be careful about what you did because you knew that each game was very, very tough, and that’s what it should’ve been. I don’t think today the game is that tough, unless the Lakers play the Spurs, the Celtics play the Magic, the Bulls play the Celtics or something like that. There are only a couple of teams out there that really get tough, and some teams don’t care.

Can you imagine if the new technical foul rule was around back then? Because of the intensity in those Knicks-Heat games, you guys would have been T’d up so much, no one would be playing.
Oh, man. Nobody would be playing (laughs).

What was the trash talking like? Were you saying anything, were guys saying anything to you?
Nah, you know what? There wasn’t any trash talking out there. If the team did something good, we’d be like, "Yeah, yeah, here we go, alright let’s keep doing this, let’s play some defense." We knew each other to a T on offense. It was like, if our team did something good, we were happy and we were gesturing and doing stuff for our team to make sure that we were up and ready to win the game. And they were the same way. It wasn’t like we were showing each other up or anything like that. We were very careful about what we did out there because we didn’t want anything to escalate. Even though we went out there and played hard, we scratched and clawed, we pushed and shoved, we threw elbows at each other, we kicked each other down. Oh yeah, there was a lot of dirty stuff out there going on, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day, that’s the way the basketball game was supposed to be played. The referees did a good job, both teams did a good job -- it was just that, hey, the Knicks came out on top more than we did.

Did your emotions feel different at the Garden than at other arenas?
Oh, man. When I was with the Golden State Warriors, my thinking and my demeanor were totally different. That’s the greatest place to play basketball; that’s the basketball mecca where everybody sees you. When I got with the Heat, when we got to play the Knicks in the Garden, it was a different game -- you took your game to another level. But when they came to us, it was different -- it was just another game. It wasn’t all like that. But each game was like a playoff game.

What was it like interacting with Knicks fans?
The fans in New York treated me with respect. I never gave them any gestures or anything like that. I talked to people in the stands. I like to talk stuff and everything. I get fired up and I go out there and make about four or five shots in a row. That’s the way I am. I love to play. I understand the game and when I arrived at the arena, my mind was focused on winning. The fans were careful too. They understood what they needed to do and what they didn’t need to do from Spike Lee (laughs).

Have you been friendly with any of the former Knicks' players since the rivalry?
I see them and it’s all love. That was back then; you can’t carry a grudge now. That was basketball, that was work. Off the court, if you’re not friends or if you can’t say hello to somebody, that means you took it too seriously. We lived and died on the court, but after that, it was over with. After your career is over with, it’s over with. All that stuff is back then, and that’s the way I feel. I don’t know how they feel, but that’s the way I feel. I can talk to anybody, I don’t hate anybody and everybody is cool with me.

Were you able to take in New York City during your visits and enjoy the sights?
Oh yeah. When I come to New York, people there show me love. I blend in a lot, so a lot of people have to look me double take. They have to look at me two or three times and say, "Okay, okay, that’s him." If you respect people in New York, they respect you. And that’s all I wanted. I always wanted to come in there and play hard, and show them that I was a guy who couldn’t be reckoned with and I could compete against the Knicks and try to win there. That’s what it was all about.

What do you miss most about the NBA?
I miss everything. Once you stop playing for about four or five years, people say they don’t miss it. But yeah, they miss it. They miss the camaraderie, they miss the traveling, they miss kickin' it with their teammates, going out there and being in the trenches with their teammates. When they see a basketball game, they’ll think they don’t get lathered up and ready to play, but they do. And if they say that they don’t, then they’re lying or they never loved the basketball game. Every time you watch a basketball game, and if it’s a good basketball game, you should sweat in some type of way -- in your palms, on your forehead or somewhere -- if you love the game.

Do you still lace 'em up today?
I lace 'em up and play pickup and have some fun with the fellas. That’s what it’s all about. We all used to play at Miami High’s gym. If you’re still able to do it, just go out there and have some fun -- just make sure you don’t get hurt (laughs).

What player in the NBA today reminds you of yourself?
I think of myself as a small ballplayer who played multiple positions. I could’ve played center, I could’ve played point guard, I could’ve played two guard. I think there are two guys really right now: Deron Williams and Baron Davis. Both of them can post up, both of them are strong, they can go down low or outside, shoot some threes, make assists, rebound, play good defense.

One thing about your game, I don’t see a lot of six-foot point guards nowadays who jump as high as you did on their jumpshot.
Yeah, exactly, they have a standstill jumpshot. I used to get up on my jumpshot and it’s a lost art -- getting up and shooting little floaters and little runners in the lane.

And finally, you can’t talk to Tim Hardaway, without talking about the "UTEP Two-Step."
That crossover was one-of-a-kind. There are a lot of variations of it, but the only one that can get you open was the one I did.

Ever YouTube your crossover highlight reels?
Oh yeah. I’ve got DVDs that I check out and just watch at home by myself and say, "Back then, I was fast. Now I’m slower than a caterpillar" (laughs).

Check out my interview with Charles Oakley, giving his thoughts on the rivalry from the Knicks' perspective.

You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.