Most of the time, Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr., are recognized more for the accomplishments of their fathers than their own. Such is life as the respective namesakes of a No. 1 overall draft pick and former NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs and the son of a five-time NBA All-Star.
But for a few weeks in March and one Final Four weekend in Atlanta, that status has been flipped. Robinson. Michigan’s freshman forward who some call “GRIII,” and Hardaway, a junior shooting guard who wears a familiar No. 10, are all the envy. Even of their fathers.
“I’m living the dream,” said Glenn Robinson, the 1994 Naismith and Wooden college player of the year and “Big Dog” at Purdue who got only as far as the Elite Eight. “(The Final Four) is something that I strived to do, so it’s great to see my son make it. I’m a part of them. That’s a part of me, so I’ll get a chance to make it there some kind of way.”
The same goes for Tim Hardaway Sr., who played in four NCAA tournaments in the late 1980s at the University of Texas-El Paso but never made it past the second round.
“I’ve never been to the Final Four but I’m there now because of the name on his back,” Hardaway Sr. said, laughing. “I’m there and I’m living the dream right with him.”
The Wolverines are making their first trip to the Final Four since the “Fab Five” took them there in 1992 and 1993. What that team had in swagger and charisma with Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, this team has in NBA pedigree.
Jon Horford, a sophomore forward, is the one Michigan player with an NBA relative who knows what it’s like to play in the Final Four. His brother, Al Horford, now the Hawks center, won two national championships with Florida, including the last time the Final Four was at the Georgia Dome in 2007.
“Once everything is over, we’ll probably talk about it,” Al Horford said. “For now, I want to give him his space and let him enjoy all of this. I don’t want to start comparing and put additional pressure on him.”
It’s been 19 years since Robinson played against Duke in the Elite Eight, which was about two months after his son, Glenn III, was born prematurely. Trey, as he’s known to his family, was just getting big enough to leave the hospital in Gary, Indiana, when Mike Krzyzewski devised a game plan to dispatch Grant Hill, a two-time college defensive player of the year, on his father’s hip.
Hill and a host of Duke defenders held Robinson to 13 points, 17 under his season-average, on 6-for-22 shooting. Purdue lost 69-60 and Duke went on to play Florida in the Final Four. The Big Dog was in the stands in Cowboys Stadium last Sunday when the Wolverines beat Florida in the South Region final to earn a shot at Syracuse Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.
Robinson, who played for the Bucks, Hawks, 76ers and Spurs and ultimately made Atlanta his home, will only have to drive 30 minutes from the northern suburbs to the Dome.
“I get nervous once the game gets a little tight and once things get crucial at the end of the game,” Robinson said. “But before the jump ball, I’m excited, almost like I want to go out there.”
Because of his NBA career and the fact that he and Glenn’s mother split when their two boys were young, Robinson didn’t get to see his son play basketball in person until his junior year in high school. But the two, who remained close, spent plenty of time playing 1-on-1 together.
“We’ve been playing 1-on-1 since he was 6 years old …” said Robinson, who took it easy on his son as a youngster but said he still never let him win.
“I told him he wouldn’t beat me until he was a sophomore in college,” Robinson said.
Little Dog, as some call him, is a little ahead of schedule. He beat his father three years ago.
“I had a shoulder injury and I didn’t work out or train for like six months and that worked out well for him,” said Robinson, laughing. “That’s my excuse but, hey, he beat me fair and square.”
Hardaway said he and his son stopped playing 1-on-1 a couple of years ago when Tim Jr., 6 foot 6 and six inches taller than his father, tried to dunk on him.
“Yeah, we had to stop that because he tried to dunk on me and I tried to hurt him,” Hardaway said, laughing. “Now I can still beat him at H-O-R-S-E. I can still shoot the ball. Getting to the spot, that’s a problem. But shooting the ball, that’s not a problem.”
It took Hardaway and his son years to come to an understanding about the differences in their approach to basketball. Hardaway Sr. grew up in South Chicago where basketball became his means to escape gangs. “So they would know that you were into sports and they left you alone,” Hardaway said.
He played with a chip on his shoulder because of his height (6 feet). He was known around the neighborhood — even by a younger player he mentored from Gary, Indiana, named Robinson — for dropping 54 or 60 points in summer league games, one day after another.
Growing up in Miami, Tim Jr. didn’t take basketball as seriously. But the more his father pushed, the less fun he had. It got to the point where Tim Sr. said his wife and three kids were hardly speaking to him.
That all changed one night during Tim Jr.’s junior season at Palmetto High, when Hardaway sat in the bleachers away from family, friends and any distractions and just watched his son play.
“He rebounded the ball,” Hardaway said. “He played the way I’d been wanting him to play, but I was always around people and really wasn’t looking at the game. … He had a great game and he did everything he was supposed to do.”
Walking out of a gym after the game — a loss, no less — Tim Sr. hugged his son and apologized.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m sorry. I’m absolutely sorry for being on you. As much as it’s going to kill me, as much as I want to, I’m not going to ever talk about basketball again unless you ask me a question,’” Hardaway said. “From that day on, everything has been fine. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it had to be if I wanted to keep my family together.”
Not that he doesn’t get the urge to slip back into coach mode, but if Tim Jr. says, “Dad, Dad!” he’ll snap out of it. During Saturday’s game with Syracuse, Hardaway will be up and down in his seat, moving around, talking.
“I’m up there coaching,” Hardaway Sr. said. “But to myself.”
He wears his lucky hat, a knit cap with an “M” logo he bought on the Michigan campus his son’s freshman year. He’s been wearing it to games ever since.
Hardaway said when his son’s career at Michigan is over, he’s going to autograph that hat, sell it on eBay and put the money toward a scholarship in his son’s name.
It’s a name he’s proud to share.
“Just watching my son play is amazing,” Hardaway Sr. said. “I can’t fit in places because my head is too big. I’ve got to tilt to walk in places.”