At one point, the Orlando Magic were touted to become NBA champions. Led by the electrifying duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, the Magic earned the respect of NBA fans after they famously beat prime Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs. But like other dominant tandems we’ve seen over the years, the Shaq-Penny duo collapsed.
In retrospect, it’s hard to identify the culprit in the Shaq-Penny fallout in Orlando. Many believe it stemmed from jealousy, but regardless of its root, the only thing certain at the time was that O’Neal and Hardaway felt they had to take their talents to a team that could maximize their competitive juices en route to a championship.
In 1996, Shaq left Orlando for the Los Angeles Lakers. With O’Neal out of the picture, the next three years were tough for Hardaway and the Magic. They missed the playoffs once and failed to make it past the first round twice. In 1999, Penny and the Magic came to terms. The team decided to rebuild, while Hardaway found a glimmer of hope with the Phoenix Suns, clearing the air once and for all.
“I have nothing against Orlando. I came to Phoenix and fell in love with Phoenix,” Hardaway said via CBS News. “I thank the Magic for going through with the deal because they didn’t have to. They saw the same thing I saw; it’s time for me to just move on and start a new career. I wanted to do it here in Phoenix.”
“Clearly the goal for the franchise is to win a world championship, even though this might not happen next year,” then-Magic general manager, now executive advisor John Gabriel said. “The trade of Penny Hardaway sets us for the launch of a new era and a new team…I believe it’s the best thing for (Penny) to get a fresh start.”
Promising and nothing else
With Hardaway and Jason Kidd in the backcourt, the Suns thought they formed a new duo that would put Phoenix back on the map. It was promising indeed. But sadly, that was all it ever was.
Penny incurred an almost season-long injury after his debut season with the Suns. As for Kidd, he played well on the court, but off-court issues regarding his behavior did not help the team at all.
In 2001, the Suns pulled the plug and traded Kidd to the New Jersey Nets. On the other hand, Penny spent three more years in Phoenix and was no longer the All-Star who once edged Jordan in the playoffs.