One Pinecrest family will be paying close attention to Tim Hardaway Jr.’s left sneaker when the University of Michigan plays Syracuse in the Final Four on Saturday night.
Les and Kimberly Standiford found out Wednesday — the day that would have been their son Alexander’s 22nd birthday — that Hardaway, a Wolverines guard, has been paying tribute to their deceased son’s memory by writing “RIP Z33” on his left shoe before every game this season. He also taps his chest over his heart in Standiford’s memory after the national anthem.
Hardaway and Standiford were teammates at Miami Palmetto High, and previously at Palmetto Middle School. They met in a youth basketball league at Temple Beth Am and became fast friends. Standiford was known as “Zander,” or “Z,” wore jersey No. 33 and had a sweet three-point shot. He scored 36 points in his first Palmetto junior varsity game. As the boys got older, and taller, Standiford loved tossing up alley-oop passes for Hardaway to dunk.
Standiford always told Hardaway he was going to make it big, and that he wanted tickets when that day came. He never got to see his buddy play in the national spotlight.
On Dec. 22, 2009, Standiford died in his sleep during his freshman year at Florida State University. The autopsy was inconclusive. He was 18. The Hardaway family attended his funeral, and visited the Standiford home for shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual.
The Standifords kept tabs on Hardaway’s career at Michigan, but had no idea their son’s memory was etched on Hardaway’s shoe until Wednesday, when a reporter from Michigan emailed after hearing of the Wolverine player’s gesture.
When they needed it
The fact that the email came on Zander’s birthday made it all the more special.
“I woke up with a lump in my throat that morning, because it’s always a hard day,” Kimberly Standiford said. “I always try to do something special in Zander’s honor on his birthday, so on that day, I had made two beaded gifts to give to the two women who work at my chiropractor’s office. I wanted to spread love in Zander’s memory.”
While in the waiting room, Les Standiford, a novelist and FIU creative writing professor, received the email from the reporter. When he showed it to his wife, she burst into tears.
“I was so stunned I had to read it three times,” Les Standiford said. “I was feeling bad that we hadn’t planned anything special to honor Zander’s birthday this year, and it turned out he got his tribute after all. It’s amazing. We will definitely be rooting for Michigan on Saturday.”
Added Kimberly: “It’s really, really, really touching to know that Timmy is still thinking about our son and honoring him in this way. It’s a small gesture, but he has touched our family so deeply. Zander always wanted to [play on national TV], so in a way, his dream is coming true. His memory will be alive in that gym, on that floor, on [CBS].”
Hardaway told reporters that he honors the memory of four departed loved ones on his shoes: Standiford, his great-grandmother Maggie Brown, his great-aunt Carolyn Brown, and his former AAU teammate and close friend Ralei Sealey, a Gulliver football and basketball player who died at age 15 in a drowning accident in Key Biscayne in 2007.
On his right shoe it reads in black marker: “RIP Granny/Kay” and on the left “RIP Z33 and RS#2.” After the national anthem, he taps his chest four times in their memory.
A father’s pride
Hardaway Sr. knew of his son’s gestures. “Those four people were a part of his life and are still always on his mind,” said the former Miami Heat star, who was headed to Atlanta on Friday with his wife and two daughters to watch Timmy in the Final Four. “I knew Zander very well. He was Timmy’s buddy from way back. They visited each other’s homes. When Zander died, it was devastating to all his friends and us parents who knew his family. It was a tough time. Same when Ralei died. Those things stick with kids.”
Hardaway Sr. said he is proud that his son remains grounded in the world of big-time college basketball. And he is having the time of his life following the Wolverines through March Madness.
“Words cannot describe how proud I am of my son, and how much fun I am having,” he said by phone. “I can’t stop smiling. My chest is all swelled out and my head’s so big I can’t fit in buildings. I never made it to the Final Four, so now I finally get to be there. It’s a totally different type of fun than when I was playing. I have no control of what’s going on in the game.
“I sit there nervous, shaking, sweating, wiping my brow. It’s hard, but it’s so much fun.”