If you’re a fan of Penny Hardaway, it’s impossible not to consider what could have been. Penny was All-NBA First Team twice by the time he was 25. Who knows what heights he could have reached if only his body had held up?
That said, there’s no point to focusing on what didn’t happen at the expense of celebrating what actually did. Penny’s all too brief period atop the basketball world brought him a well-deserved enduring legacy, and his eternally cool Nike signature line and 1 Cent logo continues to resonate with sneakerheads of all ages.
Look no further for evidence than the jam-packed Nike x Sole Collector event in Las Vegas on Halloween weekend to premiere the Nike Zoom Rookie LWP, which also commemorated the many high points of Penny’s career. We caught up with Penny to discuss his thriving partnership with Nike, a few memories from his playing career, and how he continues to explore new ways to build his brand.
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Dime: I’m a fan of the Zoom Rookie, I’m hoping to get a pair. What do you think of them?
Penny Hardaway: I like the shoes. I’ve worn them for a while now, and it’s a really good shoe, man. It looks really good, and it wears really well. I’m definitely proud of it.
Dime: How much do you keep in touch with Nike regarding your brand?
PH: I keep in touch with them on a weekly basis about all the shoes that are coming out right now and when things drop, and I meet with them about the shoes before they’re released. I’m really involved with them now.
They’re going to put maybe four shoes out a year, maybe a t-shirt or two here and there, a hoodie. They don’t want to wear the brand out â€“ to have people tired of seeing the 1 Cent sign.
Dime: A lot of people say you have the best signature line outside of Michael Jordan. What has it meant to you to have the best sneakers on and off the court?
PH: It means a lot! You know, I’ve wanted to take it larger. Like MJ chose Chris Paul and Carmelo and Ray Allen and those guys, I would have loved to get a group of guys together to wear my shoe. That’s a dream. To be able to pick five, six guys to be able to wear my shoe, that’d be great.
Dime: Off the top of your head, whom would you pick?
PH: You know, that’s a hard question. I’ve had guys ask me before, like my homeboy Thaddeus Young that plays in Philly, he wanted to wear it. Gilbert Arenas, O.J. Mayo, they’ve wanted to wear it … I think even Zach Randolph wanted to wear it. I mean, these are just good friends who’ve been interested, but I don’t know, I’d really have to sit down and think about that.
Dime: Tyreke Evans is a Memphis guy, signed to Nike, He’d be a natural, right?
PH: He could definitely wear it if he wants to. All my Memphis guys who are Nike guys, I’d love for them to wear it, for sure.
Dime: We talked about Jordan – one of the coolest moments to me was when you and MJ wore each other’s sneakers in a playoff game in 1995. What did seeing Jordan in the Flight One mean to you?
PH: It meant a lot because it shocked me. I looked down at his feet, because that’s what you do when you’re looking at M, you’re like, “Man, what is he wearing tonight?” And when I saw him in my shoes, I was like, wow. That was a huge compliment.
M and I play golf a lot in Miami, and he’s an unbelievable role model. If I’m going to emulate anybody in the basketball and sneaker world, it’d definitely be him, so I definitely appreciate the relationship we have.
Dime: What would you say is your favorite sneaker in the Penny line? For the record, mine is definitely the Penny II.
PH: The Penny II is a really good-looking shoe. Me, I’m a big Foamposite guy, but if I had to pick one of the other shoes, it’d be the Penny I. It just hit so big when it first came out, it looked like it had the wing on the side and all that, so I’d say in terms of looks? The Penny I. But the Penny II has definitely played better for me on the court.
Dime: The Li’l Penny ads were so instrumental. Did you know they’d be as huge as they were?
PH: I didn’t know until we probably got about four commercials in, and everywhere I went, everyone was talking like Chris Rock. (laughs) I was like, “Wow, this thing has really gone to the next level.” I thought it was funny, but I didn’t think it would hit like this. I really enjoyed doing those commercials.