The San Jose Mercury News’ Laurence Miedema has been keeping a watchful eye on former Golden State superstar Tim Hardaway’s progress in the ABA.

Tim Hardaway (above, left) and his killer crossover dribble are back in the Bay Area. This, however, is a vastly different stage for him and his signature move.

The onetime Warriors point guard is in town as a player/coach with the Florida Pit Bulls of the American Basketball Association to play a weekend series against the San Jose Skyrockets at Civic Auditorium. On Friday, Hardaway scored a game-high 27 points in Florida’s 104-102 overtime victory. The teams play again today at 5:30 p.m.

Much of the announced crowd of 438, the expansion Skyrockets’ largest since their opener, came to see Hardaway — who even at age 39 and after several knee injuries looks and plays like he could still be in the NBA. Hardaway showed the fans and the Skyrockets his knuckleball jump shot, some sharp passes and, of course, a healthy dose of crossover dribbles.

“I can still play,” Hardaway said. “I’m not here to fail.”

Hardaway’s competitive fire burns as brightly as ever. He was there in the middle when, several times, tempers flared and tussles broke out because of rough play. He drew a technical foul for complaining about a no-call, and had to be separated from San Jose’s Lamar Castile after the pair tumbled to the floor in the fourth quarter.

There was an opportunity to join the Warriors, Hardaway said, but he turned it down because he did not want to move his family from their Miami home. He also believed an offer would be extended by the Miami Heat, the franchise he joined in 1996, and for which he was the heart and soul for six seasons.

But Heat Coach Pat Riley wanted Hardaway to start in an entry-level position. Hardaway, a 13-year NBA veteran, considered the offer an insult.

“I did a lot for this game, and you have to respect me for that,” Hardaway said. “Other teams have respected their former ballplayers and put them in high-echelon positions.”

Hardaway was presented an opportunity this summer by the Florida Pit Bulls, an expansion team in the ABA. Demetrius Ford, an ABA vice president and owner of the Pit Bulls, gave Hardaway and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fielder each 10 percent ownership of the franchise.

How valuable is Hardaway to the credibility of the ABA?

“Like the MasterCard commercial says, it’s priceless,” Ford said. “I built the whole thing around him.”

From that initial offer, Hardaway soon adopted additional duties as president, general manager, head coach and starting point guard. He is also a mentor and counselor to the players. But he will not be content to stay the biggest fish in a small pond.

“This is a steppingstone,” Hardaway said. “To me, this is not starting at the bottom with an NBA team, like Pat wanted me to start at. I’m starting at the top with an ABA team and working my way up to the NBA.”

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