After Michael Jordan retired from NBA in 1993, other teams used that as an opportunity to retake the NBA championship, and Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic were one of these squads. In a recent interview for BasketballNews, a former NBA player and starting guard for the Magic, Penny Hardaway, talked about that series. The Magic were a young and talented squad led by him and Shaquille O’Neal, and when they made it to their first-ever NBA finals, they faced the defending champs Houston Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon.
Even though the Rockets for coming back from a championship, most people thought the Magic would win the series, mostly because the Rockets miraculously made it to the finals. Penny felt the same way and said their confidence was unbelievable coming into that series, but the Rockets had experience and poise that was much needed for them in crunch moments.
We were so confident against the Rockets, and we just didn’t finish it. I have so much respect for that Rockets team because they made every shot they needed to make when we doubled-teamed Dream. When Dream got the one-on-one, he made us paid. Horry, Cassell, Smith, Maxwell, Ellie all those guys were such great role players, they understood their roles, and they knocked down big shots. That team was really good. Once we got down and they gained confidence, it was over.Penny Hardaway, via BasketballNews
Both Shaq and Penny had great series from an individual perspective, but even their effort wasn’t enough to stop the Rockets, who were on a tear after the tragically missed free-throws by Nick Anderson in game 1. According to Penny, that was when the momentum completely shifted in the Rockets’ favor, and there was no way the Magic would retake the lead no matter what either he or Shaq did on the court.
Even though me and Shaq both had great series, we got swept to a team we thought we were better than. One thing you need to know about the league is that when momentum hits, its over. It’s like the Denver Nuggets this year with the Clippers. With us, we thought we were the better team, and once we got down and lost our momentum, they gained momentum and never looked back.Penny Hardaway, via BasketballNews
One of the positive outcomes of this series is that Shaq saw what Hakeem did first hand to keep his team in the position to win by asserting his dominance on both ends of the floor. Penny said Shaq came with a different mindset in the following year and that experience in the finals against Hakeem helped him in winning all the championships later in his career.
Shaq, after that series, he came back the next year like ‘I’m killing everything moving, I’m sparing nobody. Even though he was already that type of player, Dream just taught him how you have to be when you get to those levels and that helped Shaq win the championships he won.Penny Hardaway, via BasketballNews
The Magic has such a great and talented team with Shaq and Penny alongside a few solid role players, and it’s crazy to think they made it to the finals in only their second season playing together. Unfortunately, Shaq left after their loss to the Bulls in the ECF, and the team was no longer the same or as dominant as they once were during their 3-year-long run. Penny’s career was cut short and way different after all the injuries he had. At the same time, Shaq became one of the most dominant big men in NBA history while winning multiple championships.