Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the point guard who defined the 1980’s golden era of NBA basketball. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was supposed to be the Point Guard who was set to define the 90’s and beyond… Both mercurial guards were known by their nicknames. So it’s quite fitting that Penny was often seen as the evolution of Magic. 6’7 frame, immense basketball IQ paired with unreal athleticism, Penny was truly Magic 2.0. Magic with a jump shot, Magic with hops.
Shaq and Penny were the 90’s version of Magic and Kareem. A duo that was pretty much guaranteed to own the league for a decade, especially after they dispatched #45 Michael Jordan in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (a series that was to be Jordan’s last playoff exit). Penny Hardaway was so cold, he made people actually forget about Jordan in a way for a year and a half. Magic was Hollywood, Penny starred in Hollywood (Blue Chips).
How ironic is it that Penny and Magic were both robbed of a chance to finish their careers on their own terms? Magic was forced out of the game of course in 1991 after contracting HIV. Penny’s career was derailed by debilitating knee injuries he suffered in the post-Shaq Orlando Magic era. One could say Magic’s career trajectory was pretty much set prior to his retirement, as he amassed 5 rings in 9 tries. Penny’s career saw him go from sure fire future Hall of Famer, to one of the biggest what IF stories in NBA lore. Penny Hardaway was a hybrid of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. The world was fortunate to see the best of Magic Johnson, however there’s a feeling of despair when it comes to Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.
In 1996, Magic Johnson made a brief comeback at 37 years old. The kool-aid smile was still in tact, as was his vision and legendary feel for the game. 1996 was peak First Team All-NBA Penny Hardaway, so this clash of the proverbial Titans did have some merit. We were able to witness an old Magic Johnson go into Orlando and carry a team of Laker rejects to a victory over the defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic. Mind you, Orlando was also the locale of one of Magic’s most memorable nights, the 1992 NBA All Star Game.