We’re 20 years removed from Penny Hardaway’s first season in the NBA. And before injuries re-wrote the entire narrative of his career – turning it into one of the most notorious “what if’s” in sports history – holy sh*t was he exciting to watch.
Orlando Magic fast breaks were all the rage in the mid-90’s along with Gameboys, Goosebumps books, Starter jackets and anything else found on this list. Shaq still a genetic experiment gone wrong when scientists on Area 51 decided to gene splice a cinderblock wall with a ballerina. Meanwhile, Penny was (along with Grant Hill) one of the league’s most marketable stars in the post-Jordan era.
Instead of focusing on re-opening an old wound and describing what went downhill in the blink of an eye, let’s focus on a positive moment during the 1995 Eastern Conference finals. Orlando was fresh off a defeat of a Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson-led Chicago Bulls team, something only the 1990 Detroit Pistons can stake claim to during the decade. So needless to say, the Magic’s confidence was rather damn high.
The battle with Indy was a hard-fought seven-gamer, but Penny’s cool 52.7 field goal percentage on 20 points, seven assists, three rebounds and three steals during the series were the perfect compliment to Shaq’s 27 and 10 (on 66% FG!!). Penny, at the peak of his powers, was open canvas of talents only he knew how to properly illustrate. For instance, take the time Sam Mitchell figured it would be solid idea to stand underneath the basket during one of those aforementioned Magic fast breaks.
Charles Barkley always says, I believe it’s him, that he’d rather play with a guy who is willing to stick his neck in harms way than a guy who’ll shy away. He’s right. But when the refs swallow their whistle and the only noise is an explosion at the rim and the crowd shrieking in terror, Riley from The Boondocks’ quote never seemed more applicable.