It’s been 17 years since Penny was supposed to change the game. This wasn’t an evolution, it was a revolution. It was fusion. Magic & Michael, Pippen & Bird. Penny’s game wasn’t going to emulate anyone of them, it was going to fuse the best of all of them. The ultimate point-forward.
It’s been 17 years since Penny Hardaway came into the league and I’m certain Lil’ Penny had a better career.
Sometimes it best to never know what the future holds for knowing what you lost will leave behind scars that never heal. Fans of the NBA were given a glimpse of that future only to have the hands of time quickly shut that door in our face. Penny’s career was only three years long despite having played 14 seasons in the NBA.
Oh, but what a glorious three years those were. The stats, the accolades, the super-stardom; Penny was lighting it up from everywhere. By his third year, Penny had already lived out a full NBA career. Participating in All-Star games, listed on All-NBA teams, 60-win seasons and a trip to the NBA Finals. In his third year he averaged 21.7 ppg, 7.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 spg, 51.3% FG%. The advance stats were just as prolific, a Offensive Rating of 122, a Defensive Rating of 107, a TS% of .605 and a eFG% of .549. Only five other players have put up a season like this before their 25th birthday. (Michael Jordan, LeBron James, James Worthy, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kevin Johnson. Yes, Kevin Johnson).
His game was that of a demigod. His courtvision made you believe that he was omnipresent. His ability to soar made you wonder if his arms were wings. His tremendous dunks rocked arenas like the thunderbolts cast from Zeus himself.
Even the gods aren’t immune to micro-fracture surgery. It was 1997 and Penny was all alone, putting up Superstar numbers but the team wasn’t going anywhere. Shaq had left for the Lakers, Brian Hill had been the victim of a coup de facto and Penny had been the only player left of value on the team when it all came crashing down. Penny’s knee was hurt, it needed surgery and it would go on to need four more.
The next 10 season would be more than forgettable, tainted forever with the selfish stench of Stephon and the incurable disease of being a Knick in the 00’s. Riddled with injuries through the rest of the journey, he averaged 40 games a year and never had the opportunity to establish himself again.
Injuries are part of the game. They are uncontrollable, they are unpredictable and they are usually irreversible. Penny’s injuries killed a promising career before we saw it bloom. But gods don’t die, they always live forever, ingrained into our culture through myths and legends. Penny’s legacy will live forever in the same way. We will always remember the highlights, argue about the “what ifs”, and lets not forget about the shoes. Although his career never had the opportunity to, his shoe franchise became one of the greatest that Nike ever produced.
Although Anfernee’s career was done before his 26th birthday, for the short time we got to enjoy a healthy Hardaway on the court, he was worth every penny.