FEATURE: When Jordan Met Penny (Image Gallery).
I dont care what you (yea you) think, Penny Hardaway was the next Jordan; The coveted “Heir Apparent”, if you will, who was next in line to “the Throne” Jordan left vacant due to his 1st retirement in 1993.
Matter fact, Penny still is the closest the NBA has ever come to replacing MJ in a single player. Had he stayed healthy, there’s no limit to how great he could’ve become.
Before his career altering knee injury Penny was that dude. He was basically Lebron before Lebron, only with a more complete offensive skill set – which was strictly style and finesse in contrast to Lebron’s power and brute force. He also had the superstar image and marketability comparable to Kobe Bryant….BEFORE Colorado.
Think about it. Has any other NBA athlete had Spike Lee directed Nike commercials featuring the world’s biggest Super Model in Tyra Banks, AND his own mechanical doll voiced by Chris Rock?
Those commercials equaled big sneaker sales too. Nike’s Penny line was so popular that almost 20 years after the original “1 cent” signature shoe hit stores, the brand is still produces the most sought after shoes in the athletic shoe market, next to Air Jordan, of course.
But guess what? Penny even had a special version of the original Jordan 9 made exclusivly for him while Jordan was retired – a model Jordan himself never wore in game.
Talk about walking in Jordans foot steps.
By they way, Jordan even wore Penny’s once as well.
Coincidence? I think not.
If you still aren’t convinced Penny was the next Jordan, take Jordan’s word for it.
MJ himself openly praised Pennys game and even said he was comfortable leaving the game in Hardaway’s hands once he retired. Personally, I always thought Jordan officially passed the torch to Penny here.
Ok, I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d say Penny Hardaway was the only true rival Jordan had during his career. Yep, not John Starks, Joe Dumars or even Reggie Miller……ok, maybe Reggie. But I don’t think there was another player whose offensive game Jordan feared more than Penny’s. If Jordan didn’t fear Hardaways game, he admired and respected it for sure.
Lets not forget, it was Penny’s Magic who gave Jordan -albeit a rusty MJ a only few months removed from Baseball- his only playoff loss (1995) since he won his first title, up until his 2nd retirement from the Bulls.
So technically for one short span of about 7-8 months one could argue Penny>Jordan, and a lot of Basketball fans did believe this. I, however, never took it that far. I’m a Penny fan and all, but I always knew who the “GOAT” was.
As far as my favorite NBA players went, it was always Jordan first then Penny and that remains the same today. That said, on his way back to the top, post retirement, Jordan had to go past Penny, who was no doubt the leagues biggest basketball star during the mid-nineties. Maybe this is why old photos of the two matching up are so intense.
Jordan knew Penny was “coming for the crown” and you better believe every time the two met up on the court he would give it his all. And Hardaway wouldn’t back down. In fact, I’d say Hardaway was one of a few players to really go at Jordan. He even got him good one time. So good the play ended up immortalized in a Slam Magazine Poster -one I’m sure Jordan wanted no part of.
As a competitor, Jordan had to have appreciated every chance he had to face Penny, even the games he lost. It was all respect between these two. As the saying goes: “Game respect game”.
Not unlike Durant vs Lebron today, Jordan vs Penny was the dream match up for me as a kid and hopefully you can relive it through these photos. Enjoy!