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Penny Hardaway was, in many ways, the quintessential Orlando Magic superstar. Since the franchise’s inception in 1989, a handful of the most exciting players of the past 23 years have donned the pinstripes and none have truly reached the limits of their physical gifts in a Magic uniform.
Shaq bolted for L.A. after four seasons. Tracy McGrady’s career with the Magic was derailed by injuries and then resurrected once he was traded to Houston. Dwight Howard bullied his way to the Lakers this past summer. Penny’s left knee betrayed his body before being traded to Phoenix.
The Magic have a tendency to feature superstars with outsized personalities and even more stratospheric on-court abilities, and these stars have an unfortunate propensity for having their time in Orlando end in disappointment. The unsung hero of this group is Hardaway, whose prime, like T-Mac’s, was cut short by some bad injury luck just as he seemed to be building a dynasty in Orlando.
Penny’s career is largely an afterthought in the greater public view, despite being one of the most iconic players and cult figures of the mid-to-late-’90s NBA. Part of that may simply be how far removed he is from having played in an NBA game and how irrelevant he was, for the most part, following the Magic portion of his career. None of this is fair to him and he deserves every bit of recognition he gets as not only an integral player in the Magic’s history, but also in the overall fabric of the game.
One viewing of this highlights mix is all it takes to remind you how unstoppable Penny was in his prime. Not for nothing did LeBron James grow up idolizing him. Penny was a do-it-all scoring threat in the same mold as Magic Johnson. His explosiveness and creativity made him nearly impossible for opponents to guard, especially attacking the basket. Everything he did looked effortless.