Catching up with Penny Hardaway
“One of the reasons we connect so intimately with talented athletes whose careers are cut short by injuries is that they remind us of ourselves. We think: That player would have been great…Just like me if my job hadn’t been downsized, my spouse hadn’t left, I hadn’t quit school to take care of my parents, etc. We allow ourselves to romanticize the best-case scenario even though, for all we know, that player may have already peaked. The dream is better this way and we stay there, freezing those moments in time.” - Khalid Salaam of SLAM
It’s amazing how much Magic history can be summoned with just one word. Whether it’s “Shaq”, “Penny”, “T-Mac” or “Dwight”, they all had their era. Penny, or Anfernee Hardaway to the IRS, is often remembered as described above. For what he could have been. Injuries began derailing him at the age of 25 in just his 4th season in the league. Although he would remain employed in the league all the way out to the age of 36, he was never the same once traded out of Orlando.
Khalid Salaam of SLAM Magazine caught up with Penny Hardaway for an interview that ranged from his sneaker collection to his origins in Orlando to the full extent of his injuries. Here is an except discussing the injuries and the lack of response from the Magic organization. I encourage you to read the entire SLAM article.
SLAM: And then the injuries started, right?
PH: First off, to this day, I don’t think people know how many I had altogether. I had six knee surgeries, two in Orlando and four in Phoenix. Two got done at the same time. I was one of the first guys to get microfracture surgery. And I didn’t handle the recovery well. It wasn’t even heard of in the NBA yet. It took away my legs, my athleticism. They were left knee injuries, and it would be like, OK, I’d have the surgery and wait like five or six weeks and come back and then a week or two later, it wouldn’t feel right. I tried to just force it. We’d go back in to get a MRI and it was torn again, and I was like, C’mon man, this isn’t right. It was crazy.
SLAM: Did you feel you were misdiagnosed? How did the Magic respond?
PH: To me, there was a lot of confusion. Back then you played hurt, so they were like, “Oh, it’s just in your mind.” It was hard to believe. They kept asking me, “Did you hear anything? Did you hear your knee pop?” I would tell them, No, but it really does hurt. All of a sudden there was pain and I was very frustrated. I went from being very athletic, one of the best guards in the NBA, to barely making it. No speed, no agility. I had to change how I played because I couldn’t exercise or train because my knee constantly hurt.
Whether that is the full story, it’s likely we will never know. Players, especially superstars, have revisionist history just like fans do about Penny. If fully true, then many Magic fans probably owe Penny a little bit of an apology for the years or negativity sent his way. He may have held a coup to get rid of Brian Hill and he may have only spent 6 season (4 full) in Orlando, but he helped provide the building blocks that allowed Orlando to succeed as a basketball city.
The common misconception, at least held by a teenage Brian Serra, that Penny forced a trade to get out of Orlando may not be entirely true either. Take a look at this old quote from Penny in a February 1998 LA Times article:
Hardaway has a clause in his contract allowing him to become a free agent after the 1998-99 season, and Orlando’s management may have become convinced that he would be looking to leave at that time. However, Hardaway insisted Wednesday he wants to play his entire career in Orlando.
“The Magic [was] looking for me to give them a commitment that I wanted to be in Orlando for the rest of my career,” Hardaway said. “I gave them that . . . and all of a sudden it seems like my word isn’t good enough to stay with the Magic. So it seems like the trade rumors have started even more.
If true. If true. Then the Magic organization may have run off not only Shaq and Penny, but potentially Dwight Howard too. It’s funny how history tends to repeat itself. Or better yet, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”