The Pacers have had another player inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame: Tim Hardaway.
What’s that? You don’t remember Hardaway’s Pacers career?
That’s understandable. It lasted 14 games in 2003, 1.5% of his career. Hardaway averaged 4.9 points on 36.7% shooting and 2.4 assists in 12.7 minutes over 10 regular-season games.
Disappointing? Perhaps. But Pacers fans got to see a glimpse of what made Hardaway a Hall of Famer in the final season of his career. Here are the highlights:
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March 15, 2003: Hardaway works out for the Pacers
Hardaway spent the first six seasons of his career in Golden State and the next six in Miami, producing the memories and statistics that earned his spot in Springfield. After splitting the 2001-02 season between Dallas and Denver, Hardaway became an analyst for ESPN.
But with only Jamaal Tinsley, Erick Strickland and Jamison Brewer at point guard, the suddenly flailing Pacers worked out Hardaway.
March 26, 2003: Hardaway signs with the Pacers
On Feb. 14, Isiah Thomas’ Pacers were 37-15 and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
They went on a six-game losing streak, won a game, then lost six more. Three days later, Hardaway got his tryout and he was signed March 26, receiving a prorated share of the 10-year veteran’s minimum of $1,030,000.
“The one position we’re not covered if one or two guys went out is point guard,” Donnie Walsh said in the March 26, 2003, edition of IndyStar. “(Hardaway is) a proven veteran, a guy who has been there. I have no doubt that he can make shots and that he can get you into your offense. I’m confident he’ll be able to play; at what level we’ll have to see.”
March 28, 2003: Hardaway makes his Pacers debut
The Pacers lost March 26, falling to 41-30, a 4-15 record since Feb. 14.
But Hardaway showed why he’s now a Hall of Famer in his debut, scoring 14 points with 7 assists and 3 steals in a 51-point victory over the Chicago Bulls.
“I talk and I lead and I try to get people to go out there and play right,” Hardaway said following the game.
The Pacers would finish the season 7-4. It would be foolish to give Hardaway all the credit for righting the ship as the Pacers never truly found their early-season form and he’d score 21 points in the team’s next 8 games.
But it’s also hard to not think his presence helped.
April 15, 2003: Hardaway has best game with Pacers
Hardaway did not play much after his impressive debut due to issues with his back, but turned in his best game to help the Pacers clinch home-court advantage with a 16-point win over the Knicks.
New York led 18-8 when Hardaway replaced Tinsley, but the veteran would play the rest of the half and help the Pacers to a two-point lead. Hardaway made all four of his shots, including three 3-pointers, for 12 points with 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 turnovers in 16 minutes.
April 29, 2003: Hardaway staves off playoff elimination
Despite home-court advantage, the Pacers fell behind Boston 3-1 in their first-round playoff series with Hardaway playing in just two games and not scoring a point.
But he would score 13 points, hitting 3 3-pointers, with 6 assists to force a sixth game.
“I just felt I had to go out there, with the leadership qualities that I have, and just lift them up,” Hardaway said.
Thomas added: “That’s exactly what you were hoping for. You hoped, when you signed him, that he would be able to come in and make shots and deliver the basketball.
“He’s a guy who’s seen a lot of it, done a lot of it and been in a lot of pressure situations. And last night we got all of that — and it kept us alive.”
November 2003: Hardaway officially retires
Hardaway would miss his only two shots while playing 3 minutes of Game 6 as the Pacers lost by 20 points and were eliminated by the Celtics. Larry Bird was hired, Thomas fired and Rick Carlisle took over as coach for the first time.
“I wanted to play another year because I didn’t go out the way I wanted to go out,” Hardaway said to the Miami Herald in 2003 after he retired. “I went out being hurt. I never went out on my own terms.”
Very few athletes get to go out on their own terms. Hardaway, an electrifying player at his peak known for his crossover dribble, averaged just 4.4 points in 14 games between the playoffs and regular season with the Pacers.
But at 36, Hardaway — combining his intelligence, leadership and skill — was an important figure in two key wins for a struggling Pacers team. He reached back and found the ability to elevate his team as he had done in his prime.
It isn’t how Hardaway wanted to go out, but he gave the final glimpses of his Hall of Fame talent wearing a Pacers uniform.
Contact IndyStar Deputy Sports Editor Nat Newell at (317) 444-6182 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter:.