Anfernee Hardaway seemed to come and go in a flash.
He burst onto the team and helped push the Magic to greatness the moment he stepped in. His rookie year was the first Playoff trip for the Magic. His second season, Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal led the Magic to the NBA Finals. He was an All-Star starter within two years and an All-NBA First Team player just as fast.
Hardaway's meteoric rise was followed by his sudden fall. Hardaway's troublesome ankle cut his career short in that post-Shaq era. Injuries began plaguing him his fourth year in the league and he played only one more full season in a Magic uniform before the team moved him to Phoenix, severing ties with that first Finals team.
We all know that story.
Hardaway does too and as his new throwback shoe is released and MItchell and Ness begins selling his old pinstripes, it is time for some nostalgia.
SLAM's Nick DePaula caught up with Hardaway, now living in his hometown of Memphis where he also bought a small ownership stake in the Grizzlies, to talk about the old days in Orlando.
SLAM: When you first got to Orlando, it was still such a young franchise. What were some of your first impressions about the franchise and about the city?
Penny Hardaway: Everything was young. We were young. The city hadn’t had the team that long, and then I felt like everything that we did, we were going to be setting the bar. No one had done anything before us, so when it came to things like wins, the Playoffs or individual accomplishments, it was all new.
SLAM: What was it like being back in Orlando this past February for All-Star Weekend and having so many people coming up to you saying they were huge fans?
PH: That was a lot of fun, man. It was bittersweet, because going back for the first time in a long time, and being involved in any kind of basketball on the NBA level, the memories just flow. Even though they’re playing in a new arena, it’s still the same fans and they were showing a lot of love. If it would’ve been at the O-Rena, it really would’ve brought back a lot of memories. But to be out of the game for six years and still be relevant and have fans, it’s just amazing.
The unfortunate part is that because his brilliance was so short and he played the majority of his time in Orlando with O'Neal casting a shadow on the franchise, you forget how good he really was. And there was also a bit of bad blood with Hardaway in his departure.
As Dennis Scott mentioned to me last year when I asked him to compare Magic eras, everyone forgets how good Hardaway was.
And he was really good. Like really really, possibly revolutionarily good.
OK, maybe that is going a bit too far. But Hardaway was among the first group of players that combined size and athleticism at the point guard position.
Either way, it is great to hear from one of the greatest Magic players of all time. And most importantly, he knows he looks really good in pinstriped (read the interview). Hopefully we will see Penny back in Orlando at a Magic game before the next All-Star game in Central Florida.