Orlando Magic 35th Anniversary: 35 best players in Magic history
3. Anfernee Hardaway (1994-99)
By Jacob Warfle
Coming in at number three, Anfernee Hardaway is in the conversation for the most important Orlando Magic player ever. Trying to build the best argument for Hardaway led me to an internal debate about the best one-liner to describe his greatness.
Rather than pick one, I will just list them out.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway is owner of one of the greatest NBA nicknames of all time, star of one of the most iconic basketball commercials ever, still one of the most popular jerseys seen at Orlando Magic home games, and proud participant in a “who’s team is it?” beef with the great Shaquille O’Neal himself.
If these do not describe Hardaway’s importance to the Orlando Magic, and NBA lore as a whole, then I do not know what does.
Hardaway has to be in the running for the coolest, smoothest athlete to ever move on a basketball court. He was more mythical than he was concrete.
Hardaway is one of the few players where his Basketball-Reference page does not come close to capturing the player people saw with their own two eyes.
Taking a little deep dive into his accomplishments will not completely wow you. He is a 4-time All-Star and 3-time All-NBA player. He also appears on a few of Orlando’s career leader lists. But nothing jumps off the screen quite like watching him play.
So maybe that is the best way to describe Hardaway, even if it might be a little disrespectful. He is on the Mt. Rushmore of “What If” careers in NBA history.
Playing six years in Orlando (three alongside O’Neal), Hardaway and the Magic captured lightning in a bottle and were immediately thrust into the limelight. O’Neal and Hardaway made the playoffs almost immediately and found themselves knocking out the Chicago Bulls and playing the Finals in their early 20s.
It is hard to quantify the real cultural impact of those 90s Magic teams, but that feels like the only time the Magic were the true trendsetters of the NBA in both style and persona. Much of this traces back to Anfernee Hardaway, who at the time was talked about as the next Michael Jordan.
Everything is not always linear with sports and we know how the story goes. O’Neal ended up leaving for Los Angeles. Hardaway battled injuries and eventually left. And the dynasty really ended before it started.
But we will always have those few years.
Hardaway still has not made his way into the Pro Basketball Hall of fame. Maybe the numbers and accolades do not quite get him there. On talent alone, he might be better than 75 percent of the names listed. But that is not how you get inducted.
He will always be one of the great members of the Orlando Magic and every few years online we will see his spin move, step-back combo pop up with a fire emoji as the caption.
Generations will continue to discover him and ask questions and we can answer: “Oh, that was Penny Hardaway. Yes, he was that good.”