NBA great Tim Hardaway inspires Loyola players with message of hope, hard work

Retired NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway (front, center) spoke to Detroit Loyola's basketball players Jan. 22 about making the most of their youth and becoming their own person. (Photos by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)

From a rough childhood in Chicago, five-time All-Star shows Bulldog basketball players how to overcome adversity

DETROIT — As a high school senior, Detroit Loyola’s Gabriel Davenport is a bit young to have seen Tim Hardaway in his prime. But via the magic of the internet, Davenport was able to view some game footage of the five-time NBA all-star.

And he was impressed.

Hardaway — who grew up in Chicago and attended a large public high school — had never visited Loyola, until Wednesday, Jan. 22, when he delivered a motivational message to the school’s basketball teams.

He was impressed, too.

Hardaway’s background story connected with his young audience. He talked about overcoming challenges in an urban high school setting.

“My parents divorced in sixth grade,” Hardaway said. “I took that hard. But I had a coach who told me, ‘You’ve got to grow up. That’s their life, you live your life. You’ve got to keep going. They still love you, they’re not going to hurt you.’”

Like the boys in his audience, Tim Hardaway had to overcome challenges in order to thrive in an urban high school setting.

Because of his fractured home life, Hardaway had a tough time maintaining focus. He had a rough time with classwork, and was even held back a grade.

“I couldn’t practice, I couldn’t play, I couldn’t have gym, and that tore me up,” he said. “That was the first time having adversity in my life.”

One of the ways Hardaway overcame that adversity was taking advice from the role models in his life.

“I listened and understood what they told me: ‘Go to school, get an education. We don’t know how you’re going to be in sports, but we know what you can be in school,’” Hardaway said. “The first thing is to take care of school. It always comes back to school. School is your best priority in life.”

Hardaway learned that lesson, but still had to deal with other factors, including street gangs of Chicago, people resenting his success on the court, and not getting recruited because of his short stature.

“Do you know what that did?” he asked the crowd of three dozen teens. “It made me stronger. A lot of people were trying to drag me down — drag me down — but I had to get to college. I worked on my game. Sometimes I had to ride a bike with no seat five miles just to get to the gym. I did that, and the more I did it, it didn’t seem so tough.”

Loyola High School student-athletes listen intently to NBA star Tim Hardaway's talk.

After high school, Hardaway enrolled at the University of Texas-El Paso, and discovered he had to be a more responsible person, since he wasn’t surrounded by his parents, friends, teachers and coaches.

A 6-foot point guard, Hardaway had a successful career at UTEP — he was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 1989 — and was the first-round draft choice of the Golden State Warriors that summer. He played seven seasons with Golden State and five for the Miami Heat, who retired his number 10 jersey in 2009.

Along the way, Hardaway played on the gold medal-winning United States Olympic Team in the 2000 games, held in Sydney, Australia. He retired in 2003 and later served as an ESPN analyst and assistant coach of the Detroit Pistons. His son, Tim Jr., played at the University of Michigan and is now a member of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

Hardaway also peppered his talk with such pillars as hard work, communication, teamwork, learning from mistakes, listening to elders, and faith.

His speech resonated with Davenport, a 6-foot-5 forward on the Bulldogs varsity squad (8-1), who is also hoping to play college basketball.

After finishing his speech, Tim Hardaway received a keepsake Loyola basketball shirt from Loyola Work Experience Program director Kenneth Gardner and the rest of the students and coaches in the school's basketball program.

“I liked it a lot. It was actually inspiring hearing someone come from a tough background and how they were able to manage to come through it and end up with success,” Davenport said. “It’s just an amazing story, you know. It’s always amazing to see how someone is working their way to the top in many different ways. It was very inspiring, I enjoyed it a lot.”

Hardaway, who said he does “do quite a few talks with students, school groups, basketball teams,” also enjoyed his visit to the small high school, located near Hubbell and Wyoming on Detroit’s west side.

“(In Chicago) we had a little bit bigger schools; I went to a public high school (Carver Military Academy). Even the Catholic schools, the all-boys schools, were bigger; but it’s Chicago, it’s a big place. I like this,” he said, motioning around Loyola’s chapel-turned-gym, where he posed for pictures before the Bulldog teams began practicing.

“I think they do really good to have 150 boys come to this school and understand and respect what they’re doing at Loyola,” Hardaway said. “They were very respectful here; I was amazed at how they just showed respect for each other, respecting who was speaking, and understanding what I was talking about.”