This weekend eleven basketball legends will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Iconic names like Tracy McGrady, Rebecca Lobo and George McGinnis to name a few, will take their rightful place in the hallow halls of Basketball Heaven. One name that isn’t in those halls, that should be, is Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.
Hardaway was a unique talent. While he played fourteen seasons in the NBA, he’s most known for the six years he spent in central Florida. From 1994-2000, the 6 foot 7 inch point guard for the Orlando Magic displayed an ability to score in an explosive manner like Mike, while also being able to set up his teammates like Magic. His was a rare talent that could do it all, years before the LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s, Giannis Antetokumpo’s of today.
He reached icon status off the court as well with his alter ego Lil’ Penny and his Air Penny signature shoe line with Nike.
But, injuries robbed him of his prime and longevity at being an all-time great. But make no mistake, there was greatness.
Let’s look at the resume: Four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and 1993-1994 All-Rookie Team selection. 1996 Gold medalist. And when Shaq left the “City Beautiful” for the “City of Angels”, Penny kept carrying the Magic to the playoffs when everyone else thought they would fold.
In his six seasons with the Magic, he averaged 19 points, 6.3 assist, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. When he retired he was third on the Magic career list in assists (2,343)—now fourth, third in steals (718), and fourth in points (7,018)—now seventh.
For those of you who closely look at the advanced numbers, with Orlando, Penny had a PER of 20.2, a true shooting percentage of 56%, grabbed 7.3 rebounds on a 23.9% usage rate.
He also delivered when it counted most, in the playoffs.
In eight playoffs trips with Orlando, Phoenix and the New York Knicks, Hardaway averaged 20.4 points per game, 6.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals in sixty-four games.
But don’t discount the college career, because that’s also valued when a player is considered for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. So many forget that it’s not just a professional basketball Hall of Fame.
Hardaway was a consensus All-American in 1993, twice awarded the Great Midwest Conference Player of the year (Conference USA) and has his number 25 jersey retired by the University of Memphis State. He did that before they became a national power and dropped the “State” from their name.
Penny’s impact on the Magic’s history is very similar to his former running mate Shaq. Together they led the Magic to their first ever playoff appearance (1994) and NBA Finals (1995). He also drew his share of the national spotlight with his Nike commercials starring Chris Rock as “Lil’ Penny”, Hardaway’s alter ego to promote his signature shoes which are still widely popular and sought after decades after their initial retail release.
If Penny were to get inducted, he would be the first Magic player to go in solely on their exploits in the black and royal blue pinstriped jersey.
Shaq is there for his contributions as a Los Angeles Laker. 2017 inductee Tracy McGrady will be going in mostly for his time as a Houston Rocket. And, if Grant Hill gets in—which he deserves to be—it will be for a combination of his collegiate career at Duke and the six years with the Detroit Pistons where he was LeBron before LeBron.
Longevity during your peak shouldn’t be the end all be all when determining if a player is HOF worthy. Penny’s time with the Magic alone should be enough to get him a coveted orange blazer. Not to be rude, but if Yao Ming can get inducted, you’re going to tell me PH1 isn’t a Hall of Famer? I’m not buying it.