Hardaway, who played in five All-Star games during the 1990s, was already in Las Vegas to make a series of public appearances this week on behalf of the league. But after Hardaway said, "I hate gay people" during a radio interview, commissioner David Stern stepped in.
"We removed him from representing us because we didn't think his comments were consistent with having anything to do with us," Stern told reporters Thursday at the opening of a fan festival at a Las Vegas casino, part of the NBA's All-Star weekend.
Stern said he had not spoken with Hardaway, who left Las Vegas on Thursday, but he planned to do so.
While Stern said a discussion about openly gay players could be part of future rookie orientation programs, he doesn't see a need to address the league.
"This is an issue overall that has fascinated America. It's not an NBA issue," Stern said, pointing to the ongoing debate over gay marriage at the state and federal levels.
"This is a country that needs to talk about this issue," he said. "And, not surprisingly, they use sports as a catalyst to begin the dialogue."
Hardaway apologized for his comments, which came a week after John Amaechi became the first former NBA player to say he was gay.
"As an African-American, I know all too well the negative thoughts and feelings hatred and bigotry cause," Hardaway said Thursday in a statement issued by his agent. "I regret and apologize for the statements that I made that have certainly caused the same kinds of feelings and reactions.
"I especially apologize to my fans, friends and family in Miami and Chicago. I am committed to examining my feelings and will recognize, appreciate and respect the differences among people in our society," he said. "I regret any embarrassment I have caused the league on the eve of one of their greatest annual events."
The NBA brings in many former players to take part in various All-Star events. Hardaway had already represented the league in Las Vegas earlier this week at a Habitat for Humanity event and a fitness promotion. The former U.S. Olympian was also scheduled to be an assistant coach at a wheelchair game Thursday night and later appear at the fan-oriented Jam Session until Stern told him he was no longer welcome.
"His views are not consistent with ours," Stern said.
Amaechi, who spent five seasons with four teams, came out last week in advance of the release of his autobiography, "Man in the Middle." He is the sixth professional male athlete from one of the four major U.S. sports _ basketball, baseball, football, hockey _ to openly discuss his homosexuality.
"David Stern has sent a clear message," Amaechi said on Good Morning America on Friday. I'm very pleased that the NBA put their money where their mouth is."
Though Stern said last week a player's sexuality wasn't important, Hardaway disagreed Wednesday on a Miami radio show.
"First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team," the former Miami Heat star said. "And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that is right. I don't think he should be in the locker room while we are in the locker room."
When show host Dan Le Batard told Hardaway those comments were "flatly homophobic" and "bigotry," the player continued.
"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people," he said. "I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."
Hardaway also said if he did find out that a teammate was gay, he would ask for the player to be removed from the team.
Hardaway apologized later Wednesday night in a telephone interview with WSVN-TV in Miami, but the furor over his remarks continued Thursday.
Two major gay and lesbian groups denounced Hardaway's remarks.
"Hardaway's comments are vile, repulsive, and indicative of the climate of ignorance, hostility and prejudice that continues to pervade sports culture," said Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "And by apologizing not for his bigotry, but rather for giving voice to it, he's reminding us that this ugly display is only the tip of a very large iceberg."
Said Matt Foreman, president of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force: "Hardaway is a hero to thousands of young people. And that's what makes his comments so troubling. Sadly, his words simply put the pervasive homophobia in the NBA on the table."
Amaechi, who detailed his life in "Man in the Middle," hoped his coming out would be a catalyst for intelligent discourse.
"His words pollute the atmosphere," Amaechi said. "It creates an atmosphere that allows young gays and lesbians to be harassed in school, creates an atmosphere where in 33 states you can lose your job, and where anti-gay and lesbian issues are used for political gain. It's an atmosphere that hurts all of us, not just gay people."
Amaechi taped a spot Thursday for PBS' gay and lesbian program "In the Life." He said the anti-gay sentiment remains despite Hardaway's apology.
"It's vitriolic, and may be exactly what he feels," he said. "Whether he's honest or not doesn't inoculate us from his words. It's not progress to hear hateful words."