Former NBA player Penny Hardaway made a guest appearance on the Basketball News podcast, where he talked about multiple things from his playing and now coaching career at the University of Memphis. One of the most memorable moments from his illustrious career was when he and Orlando Magic beat Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the second round of 1995 playoffs.
When Jordan announced he was coming back from retirement and playing baseball, it was known he wasn’t his former self simply in terms of basketball conditioning. According to Hardaway, by the time Magic played the Bulls in the playoffs, Jordan was almost back because he slowly but surely found his playing rhythm.
He wasn’t the Michael Jordan from the first three championships as far as rhythm. He wasn’t real rusty because it was the end of the season. He was rusty when he first came back, but by the time they played us in the playoffs, he had kind of hit his groove a lot better than what he was when he first came back. He came back during the season, but we didn’t play them in the playoffs 2,3 months later.Penny Hardaway, via Basketball News
Hardaway believes that loss against the Magic propelled and motivated Jordan to become an even greater player and prove to everyone he is still the best. After his first three-peat, there weren’t many things that motivated Jordan because everything was so easy for him, so he used that loss against the Magic as fuel to improve his game even more and come back to retake the league.
That is enough for someone to get his rhythm, but he wasn’t the MJ that he was the following year in 96. Like he wasn’t that MJ where he just came back driven. Maybe he thought it would be the same easiness that he had left the league with because everything was easy for MJ. The competition was high, he was so good, and everything was so easy for him. He ran into a group of young bucks that was ready, and maybe he underestimated how good we were because he never played against us.Penny Hardaway, via Basketball News
Relatively soon after he came back from retirement, Jordan was already putting up big scoring numbers against different NBA teams, and that part of the game was something that was always with him. Penny said multiple things went in Magic’s favor that series that made them win it and eventually make it to the NBA finals.
He was still capable to give you buckets. We had a good game plan. I felt like with the little rust that he did had, it did make a difference, but we played great that series and ended up beating a good Bulls team and moving to the next round and the finals.Penny Hardaway, via Basketball News