The world is evil. God might be good, but the world we live in is undoubtedly evil. For an athlete, there’s nothing worse than an injury. Some are lucky enough to never experience a real one. Others are never challenged. But two players, two people with enough talent to one day make the Hall of Fame, dealt with one break after another, one tear after another, one debilitating surgery after another.
Before the Allen Iversons, the Carmelo Anthonys, before the Dirk Nowitzkis, there was a question. And we all thought we had the answer.
Michael Jordan was bigger than a name. He was bigger than a man. But as the years went on, we got spoiled and took him for granted. We started clamoring for other people just like him. Every great player that came up had expectations to live up to. We went from idolizing the king to crowning them, instead of watching the man, we were replacing him. The truth turned into the hype, and we all got sucked into a never-ending game of “can you top this?”
Harold Miner. Jerry Stackhouse.
We didn’t just want another MJ. We wanted someone to take his place, a new generational leader. When we finally found him, we struck gold twice. Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway. Those two both should’ve been the next in line. They should’ve carried the league for 10 solid years. Alas, cruel injuries ended it all almost before it began, and we were left with nothing more besides YouTube and stories.
But which one was better? In their first few years in the league – Hardaway’s first four before his first serious knee injury and Hill first six before his fateful ankle injury – they were monsters. Check the evidence (stats are from before they were hurt):
4 All-Star Games…a top-3 MVP finish…3 All-NBA teams (two first teams)…20, 4 & 7 averages…2 steals per game…5 playoff series wins
5 All-Star Games…’95 Rookie of the Year…a top-3 MVP finish…5 All-NBA Teams (one first team)…22, 8 & 6 averages…1.6 steals per game…0 playoff series wins
Take away the injuries. Take away the bad luck, the timing, and what would they have become? Who would’ve been better? For me, Hill was an overall better player, a guy who was more consistent and someone I know could carry a team. At the same time, Hardaway was actually winning in the playoffs and was a LEGIT point guard. 6-7? You don’t see that too often.
At the end of the day, no one knows. But we can debate.
What do you think? Who would’ve been better?
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.