Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway remains one of the most electric players the NBA has ever seen. His atypical combination of a lanky 6'7″ frame equipped with tight handles, stellar on-court vision, and a bevy of post-up moves don't come by very often in today's brand of basketball. He also proudly represented his hometown of Memphis for the majority of his basketball career which made him the personality that he is known by many today.
His roots can be traced in the halls of Memphis State University, now known as the University of Memphis. Hardaway had to sit out the 1990-1991 season with the Memphis State Tigers due to being academically ineligible.
However, while he was sitting out, he was robbed at gunpoint outside his cousin’s house and was shot in his foot by a stray bullet, putting his career in jeopardy. With intentions of bouncing back both in and out of the court as he was on his way to recovery, he eventually made the university's Dean's List with a 3.4-grade point average as an education major.
In the summer of 1992, Penny Hardaway was selected to the 1992 USA Basketball Developmental Team that participated in daily scrimmages against the 1992 Olympic Team. He played alongside Chris Webber, Bobby Hurley, Jamal Mashburn, Rodney Rogers, Eric Montross, Grant Hill, and Allan Houston.
Hardaway returned for his junior campaign in the 1992-1993 season and bumped his averages to 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. He was eventually named as a Consensus first-team All-American and became a finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year and the John R. Wooden Award that are annually given to the most outstanding player in college basketball.
After a productive amateur stint, Hardaway was selected with the third overall pick by the Golden State Warriors in the 1993 NBA draft. He was eventually traded along with three future first-round picks to the Orlando Magic in exchange for the rights to top overall pick Chris Webber.
The Magic originally intended to draft Webber and pair him with Shaquille O'Neal until Hardaway expressed his desire to play alongside the rising big man and requested a second workout to show why he should be their pick. Two days before the draft, Hardaway participated in a pick-up basketball game with several Magic players and local talent and impressed the organization enough to make the draft-day trade.
Hardaway helped the Magic to their first playoff berth and their first 50-win season in franchise history. He averaged norms of 16 points, 6.6 assists, 5.4 rebounds per game. His stellar play eventually garnered him an inclusion in the NBA All-Rookie first team and was the runner-up for the NBA Rookie of the Year award to Chris Webber.
During the 1994-1995 season, the Magic won a franchise-record 57 games with Hardaway averaging 20.9 points, 7.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals per game. He was voted in as a starter in his first NBA All-Star game and was eventually named as a member of the All-NBA First Team by the end of the season.
The prolific 1-2 punch that he formed alongside O'Neal upset the Chicago Bulls and led his team to the NBA Finals where they were pitted against the Houston Rockets. Hardaway and the rest of the Magic were swept in the championship series where he tallied norms of 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 8 assists in the series while shooting 50% from the field in four games.
The departure of O'Neal during the off-season to the Los Angeles Lakers left Hardaway as the lone star on the Magic heading into the 1996-1997 season. He fought through an injury-riddled season but still managed to be named a starter for the third-straight year in the NBA All-Star game.
During the season, Penny Hardaway was reported to have led a coup to fire then-head coach Brian Hill with only 33 games left during the season. In 59 regular-season games, he averaged 20.5 points, 5.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game and was selected to the All-NBA Third Team.
The Magic managed to make the playoffs with a 45-win season. In the playoffs, the Magic fell 0-2 to the Miami Heat in the first round. Hardaway then scored 42 points in game 3 and 41 in Game 4 to force a Game 5 in Miami. He became the first player in NBA history to score 40 points in back-to-back playoff games when his team scores less than 100. In addition, he was also the first player to score 40 points in back-to-back playoff games against a Pat Riley-coached team.
Hardaway attempted to carry the team on his back once again and scored 33 points in Game 5 but the Magic ultimately ran out of gas and fell short to the Heat. Hardaway finished the playoffs with averages of 31 points, 6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. His playoff scoring average finished a close second behind Chicago Bulls swingman Michael Jordan's 31.1 tallies.
A devastating left knee injury incurred early in the 1997-1998 season required him to have surgery and forced him to miss the majority of the season. Despite the injury, he was voted to start the NBA All-Star Game for the fourth-straight year.
However, he was criticized for attempting a comeback sooner than expected by playing in the All-Star Game. He played his last game a week after the All-Star game and went on to miss the remainder of the season. In 19 games, he averaged 16.4 points, 4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.5 steals.
In the summer of 1999, at the urging of Phoenix Suns' point guard Jason Kidd, Hardaway was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Danny Manning, Pat Garrity, and two future first-round draft picks.
Through 369 regular-season games played with the Magic, Hardaway averaged 19 points, 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game. In 45 playoff games, he averaged 21.8 points, 6.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.9 steals.
Penny Hardaway landed in Phoenix via a sign-and-trade with Orlando prior to the start of the 1999-2000 season to team up with fellow All-Star guard Jason Kidd, forming what the Suns labeled as “BackCourt 2000”.
Despite the promising tandem, injuries dealt to Hardaway's foot and Kidd's ankle allowed them to play just 45 games together, garnering a 33-12 record with both players in the lineup. The Suns eventually finished with a 53–29 record and garnered the fifth seed in the Western Conference heading to the playoffs. The ankle injury to Kidd forced him to miss most of the first-round series against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
Hardaway stepped up with a triple-double performance for a pivotal Game 3 win which helped the Suns eliminate the Spurs in four games. The Western Conference Semi-Finals then pitted Hardaway against his former teammate in O'Neal and the Lakers. The Suns fell short to the eventual champion Lakers in 5 games where Hardaway averaged 20.3 points, 5.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and a block per game in nine playoff games.
Despite the loss, there was still optimism for the Suns heading into the 2000-2001 season. However, two microfracture surgeries on Hardaway's left knee forced him to miss all but four games during the season. In those four games, he averaged 9.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals.
The 2003-2004 season saw Penny Hardaway shuffle in and out of the Suns' starting lineup. There was growing uncertainty surrounding his role in the team which prompted a trade in January of 2004. He was dealt to the New York Knicks along with Stephon Marbury and backup center Cezary Trybański in exchange for Howard Eisley, Maciej Lampe, Charlie Ward, and Antonio McDyess.
In addition, the Suns also received the draft rights of Miloš Vujanić and two first-round draft picks in the deal. He averaged 8.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 34 games played for the Suns. Phoenix used the cap room that was carved out via this trade to sign free-agent point guard Steve Nash to a huge deal starting in 2004-2005.
The duo of Hardaway and Marbury eventually helped lead the Knicks to grab the last few seats to enter the 2004 NBA Playoffs. The Knicks lost in a first-round series against the New Jersey Nets where Hardaway led his team in scoring for two playoff games with averages of 16.5 points, 5.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in the series.
Hardaway spent most of the 2004-2005 season fighting several injuries. His productivity became limited and finished the season averaging a meager 7.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 37 games.
An even worse encounter welcomed Hardaway in the 2005-2006 NBA season where he played just four games for the Knicks while trying to rehabilitate arthritic knees. He averaged 2.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2 assists in those games.
Seeing him get derailed due to injuries, the Knicks decided to trade Penny Hardaway back to Orlando, along with Trevor Ariza in exchange for Steve Francis on February 22, 2006. The Magic, who had then re-hired Brian Hill as their head coach, abruptly waived Hardaway's $15.8 million contract just five days after acquiring him in order to save money and cap space.
On August 9, 2007, Hardaway was then signed by the Miami Heat for the veteran's minimum, reuniting him with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal. On December 12, 2007, he was waived by the Miami Heat in order to free up a team spot for free agent Luke Jackson.
Through 15 seasons in the league, Hardaway averaged norms of 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. He also finished with inclusions in the 1994 NBA All-Rookie First Team, and 1997 All-NBA Third Team along with two selections in the All-NBA First Team, and four All-Star appearances.
In 2011, Hardaway decided to start his head coaching career and took over for his friend Desmond Merriweather as a coach for his middle school alma mater, Lester Middle School, while Merriweather was undergoing treatment for colon cancer. He coached the Lester Lions to the West Tennessee State title after finishing 28-3 for the season.
Hardaway alongside well-known personalities like Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake were also announced to be part of an ownership group that purchased a minority stake in the Memphis Grizzlies franchise.
He was then hired as head coach by his alma mater, the Memphis Tigers, on March 19, 2018, to replace former head coach Tubby Smith. In his first year as head coach, Hardaway led the Tigers to the NCAA's National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
In the 2019-2020 season, Hardaway formed the number one recruiting class in the country after securing the commitments of number one rated high school player James Wiseman, former Kentucky commit D.J. Jeffries, former Duke commit Boogie Ellis, among other heralded amateurs. He managed to add another top-20 five-star recruit in Precious Achiuwa who was a late addition to the Tigers.
Unfortunately, Penny Hardaway failed to witness the high ceiling of his star-studded roster due to alleged issues that surrounded Wiseman's high school recruitment along with a shortened season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tennessee native could've achieved more in his NBA career if it wasn't disrupted by countless injuries which eventually decreased his overall explosiveness. Despite the hurdles that he had to overcome, Hardaway was always a showman on the hardwood who brought thrilling entertainment to basketball fans everywhere.