Every so often a player comes into the NBA that has the power to transcend time and change the history of the game forever. A few names that roll off the tongue are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James.
However, there are other players that had the talent and potential to place their names in this list as well, but for varying reasons were not able to reach the same heights in their careers. One such player is Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. A tall and scrawny 6-7 point guard out of Memphis State was doing major damage in the league in the early and mid-90s.
His ballhandling was unmatched, his ability to get to the paint was second to none and at 6-7, he had a post game that rivaled that of Shaq, his Orlando Magic running mate for the beginning of his career. To celebrate his birthday and Penny turning the young and ripe age of 42 years young, I compiled a list of the 15 best games of Penny’s sadly short-lived time at the top of the NBA pantheon.
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15. Vs. Heat
12 points, eight assists, eight rebounds
Nov. 5, 1993
I would be doing this list an injustice if I didn’t include Hardaway’s professional debut. After being selected third overall by the Golden State Warriors and then traded to the Magic on draft night, Penny showed just why people were excited about the player he could and would become during his future years in the league. While 12 points doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, the eight rebounds and assists definitely showed that Hardaway could affect the game in more than one way.
14. Vs. Pacers
23 points, five assists, 13 rebounds, three steals
Feb. 26, 1999
1999 was the last season of top-notch Penny Hardaway. Unfairly to both Hardaway and fans alike, that year also happened to be a shortened season due to a NBA Lockout; games didn’t begin that year until February. Yet on this February night, Penny looked to be in midseason form. Hardaway might have been labeled as a point guard, but he hit the boards better than some of the big men he played against during his tenure in the league. The Indiana Pacers saw firsthand as he pulled down 13 rebounds to go along with 23 points, five assists and three steals. There wasn’t an empty slot in his whole stat sheet.
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13. Vs. Sixers
(28 points, nine assists, nine rebounds)
March 9, 1994
As I stated before Penny was capable of doing whatever he wanted on the court during his prime, however he didn’t record that many triple-doubles during his career. That wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. The Philadelphia Sixers found that out in the second half of his rookie season as he fell one assist and one rebound short of his first ever triple-double. Still a 28-9-9 line is impressive for any player, whether they are a rookie or it was their 15th year in the league.
12. Vs. Bulls
17-for-25 shooting, 39 points, six assists, five rebounds)
Feb. 26, 1995
One of the things that made the Magic such a dangerous team during the Shaq and Penny years was that it was much more than a two-man show. With players like Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Horace Grant on the roster they had five guys that could hurt an opposing team. On this February night in 1995 though, Penny would take the reigns and lead Orlando to victory while Shaq and Grant sat on the sidelines dressed in their Sunday best. And did I mention that they were playing Scottie Pippen‘s Bulls?
This game from the 1996 NBA Playoffs against Chicago could’ve made the list as well… if Orlando didn’t get completely annihilated.
11. Vs. Nets
15 points, seven assists, 11 rebounds
Nov. 20, 1993
Like his first game, his first recorded double-double deserves a place on this list as well. And only nine games into his rookie campaign he was able to get the first of many. Most would think that it would be points and assists that would lead Hardaway to the double-double mark, but it was his ability to use his length and height and pull down rebounds that allowed him to eclipse the 10-plus mark in two categories for the first time.