Penny Hardaway made a guest appearance on ESPN’s show The Harder Way, where he talked about “The Last Dance” documentary. Hardaway and the Orlando Magic had their share of battles with the Bulls in the mid-’90s and were a rare team that eliminated Bulls and Jordan from the playoffs. It’s fair to say Michael Jordan was still rusty when he returned after his first retirement in 1995. Penny said his mentality at the time was that he thought he was one of the best guards in the league despite Jordan’s return to the NBA.
“He came back, and I was like I’m a big dog. Michael is Michael, but he will have to show it to me. That was my mentality because I had already been in the league and established myself. But playing the Bulls, you could tell he was rusty, but you could tell he was a bad dude, and the respect was always there. My thing was that you have to attack him before he attacked you, but all we did was piss him off.”Penny Hardaway, via ESPN
During the 1995 second-round playoffs, the Magic surprisingly beat the Bulls in a six-game series, which left a bittersweet taste on Jordan’s return. Penny said that it took a bit more time for Jordan and the Bulls to get back on the right track. Jordan came back with a vengeance the next and showed everyone what he was made from when the Bulls swept the Magic in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals.
“Once he got that year under his belt, got his feet back wet, he went right back to the pit-bull mode, and it was over. It was fun competing against him because if you didn’t come to the game ready to fight, he was gonna kill you.”Penny Hardaway, via ESPN
Apart from having several duels on the basketball court, Penny also played against Jordan in his probably second favorite sport, golf. That allowed him to see Jordan in a different setup, but with the exact competitive nature and the desire to win. During that time, he also got familiar more with his personality. He concluded that Jordan is a machine that never stops and is highly systematic in whatever he does.
“Mike was the ultimate competitor who didn’t want to lose at anything. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter what it was. I call him the machine. I played golf with him for three days straight. Thirty-six holes or more a day during those three days and I had to rest for a week. I couldn’t keep up. I call him the machine, I don’t know what he is built from because he doesn’t get tired. He is relentless on the same routine, every single day, all day.”Penny Hardaway, via ESPN