Penny Hardaway made a guest appearance on the ‘All The Smoke’ podcast, where he talked about several things from his NBA career but also what it was like going against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls early in his career. When Penny joined the Orlando Magic in 1993/94 season, Jordan was already retired and playing baseball. Penny said he wanted to play against Jordan to test his skill set against the best player in the world. When Jordan finally announced he was coming back, Penny immediately knew he had to bring his A-game the first time they play against each other.
“I wanted to play against MJ, but then he retired before I came into the league. Then when I came into the league, he comes back, so my first mindset is damn MJ is back, and then I snapped out of it real quick and said you have to go at his ass. You have to get his respect because this is my favorite player. Magic was number one but who didn’t like MJ.”Penny Hardaway, via All The Smoke
Penny remembers the first game of the 1995/96 season when he played against the Bulls and said the excitement was so great he couldn’t sleep the night before. He wanted to prove his worth, primarily because of the fact Shaquille O’Neal didn’t play that game. Hardaway didn’t disappoint and dropped 36 points that game, beating the Bulls who ended up winning 72 games that season. Hardaway also said he had a feeling he pissed of Jordan because that was the last time the Magic beat them either in the regular season or the playoffs that year.
“When he came back, and we played them for the first time, I got the best of him and Pip that game. I think I had 36, and I didn’t even sleep that night cause I was so hyped and ready to play that game. We won, but I think we only pissed them off. I pissed him off, and I know that for sure. It was early in the season, and we were one of the first teams to beat that 72-10 team, and that is the game when I had 36. Shaq didn’t play that game because he was hurt, and I remember that game really well.”Penny Hardaway, via All The Smoke
During his time with the Magic, Penny had multiple opportunities to play against the Bulls, and one word that comes to his mind when describing that team is relentless. They tended to wore you down and made you work hard on both ends of the floor. That was evident in the 1996 ECF when the Bulls swept the Magic. That series showed how dominant the Bulls were, despite the fact the Magic were a great team that made it to the NBA finals the season before. Hardaway himself has a lot of appreciation for the Bulls and everything they did during their reign of the NBA.
“You had to get your sleep that night if you’re about to play those guys because, honestly, they were just relentless. They pulled every one of your weaknesses. If you weren’t a shooter, they would make you take jump shots, and if you tried to make it to the basket, they would plug in the paint. They were not going to give you your strengths and what you really loved to do. They were relentless all the time on what they needed to do. Offensively they ran the triangle to perfection. To me, as a competitor, I enjoyed every game against them because you knew you were playing against greatness.”Penny Hardaway, via All The Smoke