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Thursday, February 22, 2007
Updated: February 23, 5:59 PM ET
'I don't have a hate bone in my body'

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

What do you do when you see your friend in the middle of the ocean drowning?

That's the question you have to ask yourself, especially when you are a journalist and the friend in question is Timmy Hardaway. Do you let him go under, saying, "He brought this on himself, there's nothing I can do." Do you look over your entire relationship with him and say, "That's not him. What he said is not the type of person he is." Do you try to see both sides, his and John Amaechi's? Especially since you have a relationship with Amaechi, too, having worked together on a television show back in 1998. Do you try to come to Tim's rescue? Do you distance yourself from him? Do you say, "I hate him because he said he hates a group of people."

Do you let him drown?

See, Timmy Hardaway and I grew up together, been tight for over 30 years, family linked through blood and love. So when the fallout unfolded after he said on Dan Le Batard's radio show that he hates gay people, I felt the right thing to do would be toss the man a life preserver. Know him or not, agree or disagree, black or white, gay or straight, it should never be in us to watch a man drown without doing something. Now what he does with the life preserver once it's thrown out there is an entirely different story. That is all on him.

To find the place between objectivity and spin control. That's where we found ourselves. He in Miami, me on the same block we grew up on in Chicago. A very honest conversation with Timmy Hardaway. One week after seeing him begin to drown.

Scoop: You used the word "hate" …

Tim: I know. And I don't hate anybody. I don't have a hate bone in my body.

Then how did that come out of you?

Scoop, it was just the wrong choice of words. It came out of my mouth real crude and real bad and real ugly. And people think that that's the way I feel. That I hate [gay people], and I don't. I don't condone what they do, but I don't hate them. But that's how it came out.

They call them hate crimes for a reason.

And that's what it was, a hate crime on my part. But I was never brought up to hate anybody, you know that. But that's just the word and that's how we used it. You know when we got a whopping we'd be like, "I hate my moms" or "I hate my dad," and at the time you really didn't hate them, but that was the word you used. You know I can go into a restaurant and say, "I hate this food, I hate the chef, I don't even know why I came back to this restaurant." But I know I can't use the word like that, or let's say I'm not supposed to. People have come up to me and told me, "Tim, you can't say that you hate gay people because it's not the same term." But that's how I talk. That's the way I am.

Take me back to the interview with Dan.

When I listened to the interview it really sounded like I meant what I said, like I meant that I hate gay people. I was thinking that I was talking to somebody else and not really knowing what it was I was saying. Did I forget I was on the radio? To tell you the truth, at the time I was talking, yes. I've known Dan for a long time and we're real cool and we were just having fun on the radio.

Did you expect a fallout after the interview? What did you expect was going to happen?

I didn't know it was going to be that bad. And that's honest. I really didn't.

But when you saw that you were one of the top stories on "Good Morning America" the next morning …

When I seen and heard a lot of people's comments -- I didn't read the papers, but -- on TV, just the magnitude of it all, that's when it really hit me, like …

"That I really f----d up now?"

That I really offended a lot of people and that's not me. … Like I said when I heard the interview, when I heard myself, it sounded bad. "Them being in another country and they shouldn't be in America …" That should have never come out. I was like, "Damn, I messed that up. Damn, I don't believe that came out my mouth. Damn, that's not me."

I've known you nearly all of our lives and I know there's no filter with you. You've always taken pride in being unapologetically and almost brutally honest. But there's a difference between being honest and being smart. I think you picked the wrong time to be honest and you took the wrong road.

Yeah, I took the wrong road. I should have been smart about what I was saying and how I expressed my feelings because I offended a lot of folks. And not knowing the magnitude on how this all escalated. I mean, I offended my family, my friends, the NBA, the gay community, people I don't know, the [Miami] Heat organization. I realize that I offended a lot of people and caused a lot of friction on a touchy subject. And now it's my job to make it right.

Yeah, you called your grandmother and apologized.

I called my grandmother, I called my dad, I called my mom, I called my brother, I talked to a whole lot of folks in my family just to make them understand that I'm sorry for shaming the family. And they were real with me. They told me that they know I'm always honest and I always speak my mind, but that I shouldn't have used the word "hate." They told me how bad that word is and how I came off saying it. They let me know that it's going to be all right, but I gotta be the one to make it all right.

But still you have issues with gays?

I still don't accept their lifestyle. No.

And you stand on that?

Yes. You know, we were brought up to not even condone or associate yourself with a gay person. If you knew of a gay person, disassociate yourself with them.

But Tim, you've been in Miami for years now and there is a strong and public gay community there. How have you still held on to that same mentality while living in Miami all of these years?

I just get away from it. I just walk away. I see it, I just go the other way, cross the street.

So at no point did you ever try to understand their lifestyle or way of life?

No. Never did. Never wanted to.

Do you want to now?

No. I don't want to … try to find some type of understanding of why they live the way they live or why they are the way they are. Maybe I could go to therapy, maybe someone can help me out with understanding [them], the sensitivity of the issue. But as a person, my beliefs are my beliefs. I don't have to condone it and I don't have to be around it. But I don't have to hate it either.

So do you understand the public's reaction?

Yes. And everyone has the right to say what they want to say to me in response. You can curse me out in the streets and in the papers. As long as they don't put their hands on me.

Let's get to a real situation: li'l Timmy is 14 now. How do you handle it if he comes home from school or, better yet, you get a call from a hospital that says that he's been beaten by a group of gay kids in reaction to what you said about them?

That's wrong.

Even though you said that you "hated" them and that there's no place in this country for them?

Still … I didn't put my hands on anyone. Do you understand that? I grew up under the sticks and stones rule. I didn't put my hands on you so why should you put your hands on me or my family. It was wrong what I said, but it would be wrong for anyone to put their hands on anyone in my family for what I said. And I told them, I told my family, to be prepared for some verbal abuse. Take it as a learning experience that your dad messed up. That it was a learning experience and build on that. But if anyone puts their hands on my family, I'm going to have a real problem with that.

Did you think about any of that when you were talking?

Naw man, and that's what hurt me the most. My wife said to me, "Did you think about what you did? What about us?" And I was like, "You are absolutely right, I didn't think about the ramifications what I said would have. I didn't think of you all when I was speaking."

Is that something you now have to think about?

Yeah. I have to look in their eyes and watch them walk on eggshells. I have to walk on eggshells. Not knowing what to expect from people. Not sleeping at night because of what someone may do. Staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning thinking that someone may jump my fence and set my house on fire. Or someone try to break in and hurt us. We just went to the movies the other day and that's what I had running through my mind, how were people going to react? "Is someone going to do something real, real, real crazy to one of us?" I have no idea what people may do. And I'm going to have to be that way for a long time now, because you never know. You never know.

Lemme ask you this, because I'm really trying to get at where this is coming from, the way you came across on the radio, your choice of words, your anger. I've had people roll up on me and say that something must have happened to you in your life to make you feel the way that you do about gays. Now I've been through everything that's gone on in your life with your family -- the substance abuse, the alcoholism, you riding the CTA [Chicago public transportation] at 8 years old, surviving Altgeld Gardens, all of that. But did anything happen to you? Was there any homosexual experience that triggered any of your resentment toward gay people that happened when you were young that none of us knows about?

When we was growing up Scoop, if we saw gay people or whatever, we ran across the street. We got away from them. Our parents, our friends, our families knew that that wasn't right. We didn't want to be around that and they definitely didn't want us kids around it. And it's not that they hated gay people, they just felt they it wasn't right. Let them do what they want to do. And that was my experience when I was growing up. Not acknowledging them. Now did something happen to me? No. But I did have a friend that something happened to him in a Catholic school, but that is another can of worms that it's not my place to open because it's not my life. But to answer your question, "No." Nothing happened to me. I just don't condone [being gay]. When I see gay people holding hands or kissing in the streets, I just don't think that's right.

Is there some religious factor behind your thinking or is this just your belief?

Just my belief.

So when John [Amaechi] came out with the book, did that mean anything to you?

No.

Do you feel that Dan's question was fair?

Yes. The media has the right to ask anything and we have the option to turn it down. Say "no comment."

But you didn't.

I should have just said that I wouldn't want to be on the same team with a gay person because I just don't think it's right for them to be on a team and the team not know that you are gay.

But that's a whole 'nother issue. That's an issue of trust, not sexuality. So you would have a problem with a gay teammate if he disclosed that he was gay later on, but if you knew he was gay coming in, like when he got drafted …

I could deal with that better. Because at least then I'd know. I'd know what I'm dealing with from the beginning. But if a guy, like they say, is in the closet and decides to come out of the closet years down the line, you feel that your friendship, him being a teammate, being a part of a team, which in a lot of ways is like being part of a family or fraternity, has been betrayed. You feel like you've been double-crossed. We were in battles together, we were in the trenches together, how could you not tell me? I have a friend who was on a team with a gay person and that person was his roommate and his teammate came out of the closet after they had been roommates. And my friend told me that he's the one who felt violated. He told me that he hates him now. He said if the dude had come to him before and told him this, maybe it could have been worked out, easier to accept. It's a trust issue. They were on the same team and roommates for four years and then two or three years after he left he came out and said, "Hey, I'm gay. I'm bisexual." I don't know how to even deal with that.

OK, so let's say one of our boys, or better yet for the sake of this interview, what if I told you that I was gay. We've known each other all of our lives, came up together, we boys and all, and out of nowhere I spring that on you. Told you that the wife and kids were all a facade and that all of this time I've been gay. How would you accept that? Or would you? Would you end the friendship?

Wow. I don't know. I honestly don't know. Wow. I'd probably be or say something like, "Me and Scoop was tight until he told me this." Our friendship may not continue to be as tight as it is but I'd let you know that you could call me, talk to me whenever, something like that. I really wouldn't know how to react to that.

But would you be more mad at the fact that I violated a trust issue because I never told you or that I was gay?

Trust issue. I trusted you. We talked like boys for years and you had plenty of opportunity to tell me something like this. It's always a trust issue. It wouldn't be because you were gay or bisexual. My issue with you would be because of trust, because you never told me.

What has the last seven days of your life been like?

Hell. Pure hell.

Do you think it's fair that 30 seconds of your life is going to be how you are ultimately judged for the rest of your life?

No.

But do you understand it?

Yes. I understand it, believe me I understand it. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to run from any situation. I didn't grow up like that. I was always taught if you do something, face the piper. Try to make it right. That's what I'm trying to do. But I still don't think for 30 seconds of what I said, that that should be it. I could see two or three days, if I did something on that level for a couple of days, over a weekend. But for one thing said? For the rest of my life I should be known for this?!? When Charles Barkley said he don't like white people, after a year or six months he's back in the good graces with everyone.

Yeah, but it helped that at the time that he said it Charles had a white wife, so you really couldn't take that seriously.

True, but a few months later everyone brushed his comment under the rug, tore it up and threw it in the garbage. And that was that. Now I'm not trying to compare situations because he didn't use the word "hate" but this country is supposed to be about giving people second, third and fourth chances. And if I can't get a second chance … then I'll know.

So in your mind do you want forgiveness or are you just going to try to get yourself straight?

I want both. I want forgiveness and I want to get my s--- together.

And that entails …

Right now, learning. Learning that gay people are really no different than a lot of other people. Learning that they work hard, they do things in the community, they are responsible for building parks, rec centers, providing safe environments for kids, just things I had never associated with them before. [This last week] has opened up my eyes to the gay population and what they do. I'm getting a lot of knowledge about them that I didn't have. Which is going to make me a better person. And if it doesn't, then I'm a damn fool.

So are you doing this for the public acceptance or for you?

For myself! I don't need to go through anything for anybody else. What am I going to get from the public? What are they going to do for me? They gonna still say, "He's just doing this to rectify himself" or "He's just doing this because his people told him to do this." Most of the public and most of the media is crucifying me anyway. So why should I let them know what I'm doing or how I'm going about trying to rectify my wrong? And even when I do everything that I'm going to do to make this right there's still going to be people out there that say I don't get it. Like [Michael] Wilbon on "PTI." I'm still trying to figure out what he's talking about. What don't I get? Reggie Miller and Barkley said that I wasn't going to get a job in the NBA; Charles, you still around. You know. So understand, Scoop, that whatever I do I'm doing this because I insulted the entire gay population. To make them understand that I don't have a hate bone in my body, and I don't hate them.

But you still don't accept their lifestyle?

No. I'm opening myself up to get a better understanding of who they are, but I still don't condone what they do. I don't want to be a part of it and I still don't want to be around it.

They say everything in life happens for a reason. Do you think you are going through this for a reason?

Probably so. But I think it's to soon to tell right now. I don't know what's going to happen, how it's going to play out, but I think in the end it's going to be positive.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He's also the host of ESPN Original Entertainment's "NBA Live: Bring It Home". Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.