This tendency toward sounds of apprehension among Warrior fans is brought on by certain aesthetic shortcomings in Hardaway's delivery. "A lot of people on my own team say it's very ugly," says Hardaway, unperturbed. "But it's my shot, and nobody can seem to stop it. I love my shot. It may look bad, it may not have rotation, but it goes in." Which is exactly what it did on this occasion while Smith was still busying himself trying to prevent a layup. All told, Hardaway scored 10 straight Warrior points in the two decisive minutes of a 123-116 Golden State victory.
This was not the first time Hardaway had rescued the Warriors. He scored Golden State's final 13 points in a 112-111 victory over Sacramento on Nov. 17. In his 35-point eruption against the Nets on Jan. 15, he scored the Warriors' final six points in a 112-111 overtime victory; his last two shots were fallaways from behind the backboard.
"When the game is on the line, you have to wrestle him for the ball," says Mullin, Golden State's All-Star forward. "He's got the most confidence I've ever seen in a human being." Nelson isn't altogether sure Hardaway is human. "He's made more big plays, taken over more games and led more runs than anybody we have," Nelson says. "He won three games this year that we were out of. When the hour is the bleakest, he saves the day. I think he's Mighty Mouse."
A mouse in a cape with an ugly shot was not exactly what Bay Area fans had in mind when the Warriors, who were supposedly seeking a big man, drafted Hardaway with the 14th pick in the 1989 draft. "He wasn't a popular choice," Nelson concedes. On the eve of his Golden State debut, Hardaway contracted a case of tonsillitis, but at the time he said nothing and tried to play through the discomfort.
"We told everybody he was going to be terrific, and then, of course, he bombed in his first six or seven games," Nelson says. After a 30-point loss in the Warriors' opener at Phoenix last season, Nelson described Hardaway's performance as "awful, just awful." For the first three months of the season, that was also a fairly accurate description of Hardaway's mood. "Everybody was booing me, and I was making a lot of turnovers," he says. "I'd go home and not want to show my face."
Over the summer Hardaway took at least 300 shots a day, making himself such a threat from long range that he has also been invited to the NBA's three-point shoot-out during the All-Star festivities. But in the process of reinventing himself, Hardaway never found a way to transform his size. He had expected to grow to his father's height of 6'4", but he seems to have been equally influenced by his mother, Gwen, who is 4'11" and carries the mail for the U.S. Postal Service in Chicago. "I don't think of myself as a little guy," he says. 'I think of myself as 7'1" when I go in there against Patrick Ewing. But I didn't grow, so I just had to go with what I had."
Some people are too big even for million-dollar houses. No matter how much they cost. "Tim always wanted to be taller," says Gwen Hardaway, "but he said, 'If I can't be taller, I might as well be great.' "