When you talk about some of the biggest "what-if" players in NBA history, the name Penny Hardaway has to be at the top of that conversation. The 6'7" point guard was one of the most electrifying players of the 90s', but nagging injuries stopped him from becoming one of the best players in the game, even though people often overlook his game nowadays. That's why Penny himself had to make his case and share where he views himself amongst the best players ever.
Ahead of his time
With his size, athletic ability, skill, and flash, Penny was ahead of his time, displaying something rarely seen in the NBA at the time. Being able to do absolutely everything on the court with style made him a real threat on the court.
Drafted with the 3rd pick in the 1993 Draft by the Orlando Magic, Penny was chosen to be the right man hand to their other young star in Shaquille O'Neal. And that would be a perfect choice, as Orlando instantly became a good team, winning 52 games in Penny's rookie season with their young-star duo.
Penny & Shaq were taking over the league from the gate and winning the hearts of numerous NBA fans. But it wasn't just Shaq breaking backboards and Penny being one of the flashiest players in the league already. This was a winning team that got to the Finals already the following season, knocking out even Jordan's Bulls. Obviously, they were too young to overcome Hakeem and the Rockets, but the future was bright for the Magic and their star duo.
But unfortunately for them, Shaq would leave for Los Angeles, and Penny would start dealing with injuries that eventually ruined his career. Just like that, the most promising team in basketball got blown up without ever reaching their full potential. At least Shaq would go on to become a 4x time champion and one of the greatest centers ever, but Penny, on the other side, never reached the form from his first few seasons.
In his third season, at 24 years old, Penny averaged 21.7 ppg, 7.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, and 2.0 spg. But after that, Hardaway never managed to reach those numbers and slowly downgraded through his career. A devastating left knee injury would give a massive hit to Penny's athletic ability, as he never got right after that. After his time with the Magic, Penny would play for the Suns and shortly for the Knicks and the Heat, without ever being that star, but rather a role player struggling to stay healthy. Just a sad ending to a career that could have been one of the greatest.
Unfair judgments about Penny
Nowadays, Penny Hardaway is a very successful coach at the prestigious University of Memphis and is still relevant in the basketball world. In an interview with a couple of his players, Penny got asked what are some of the unfair things said about him. Penny shared his thoughts:
"As a player, probably that I'm not one of the top players. I feel like I did get injured. But I showed enough in the game to know that I am one of the top players to ever play the game...When you know the game, and you're the point guard of your team, you're an extension of the coach...I don't really care about what they feel or what they say, but I hear those things, and my whole motivation comes from me."
i sat down with Penny Hardaway in Memphis and asked him about some of the unfair narratives that exist about him.
not being considered one of the greats is a big one. he told me: “i’m one of the top players to ever play the game.” pic.twitter.com/ikxmvheNWJ
— Ashley Nicole Moss (@AshNicoleMoss) November 9, 2021
">Ashley Nicole Moss Twitter
Penny is correct, as almost nobody anymore talks about Penny like he is one of the greats. His greatness is somewhat forgotten and pushed under the rug, but that is more because his prime was so short-lived that it didn't have enough of an effect for people to consider him one of the best. But one thing is for certain. If Penny stayed healthy, he would have been of the top players ever to play.