Penny Hardaway was one of the most recognizable faces in the NBA in the early to mid-90s. In many ways, he was ahead of his time. Hardaway was a big guard who could do a little bit of everything and did it with flair and swagger. Penny was on his way to becoming a superstar until the injuries got the better of him, leading to an unceremonious retirement. Years after hanging up his sneakers for good, is Penny Hardaway in the Hall of Fame? If he isn’t, has he done enough to get the nod?
Before answering that question, check out how good Hardaway was in his physical prime.
Who is Penny Hardaway?
Penny Hardaway was a standout with the Orlando Magic early in his career, but eventually, injuries got up, relegating him to obscurity. He played for 14 seasons in the NBA for four teams.
Early Years and Playoff Success
Hardaway was the third overall pick by the Golden State Warriors in 1993 after a stellar college career in Memphis. He was traded to Orlando for the No. 1 pick Chris Webber and immediately formed a dynamic 1-2 punch with Shaquille O’Neal, whom the Magic drafted 1st overall a year before. With Shaq and Penny leading the way, the Magic experienced its first taste of the playoffs after four seasons in the NBA.
Penny’s rookie season was solid, and he was part of the All-Rooke First Team. However, the following season, 1994-95, was the coming-out party for Hardaway. It’s the first of two consecutive years where he was named for the All-NBA First Team, ranking top 15 in points per game, assists per game, and steals per game. He was also number 24 in field goal shooting.
It was this season when Hardaway showed what he could do in just his second year. He does a little bit of everything while having the potential to be a multi-faceted, two-way contributor that every team needs. The 1995-96 season was even better. Penny averaged 21.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and two steals while shooting 51.3% from the field.
As mentioned, he was named to a second straight All-NBA First team, but everything was different this time. It all came together for the team as far as playoff success is concerned. They defeated the returning Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference Finals, the only playoff loss of MJ in the 90s. Hardaway was averaging just under 20 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.7 dimes, and 0.9 steals on decent efficiency.
Injuries and Subsequent Retirement
Penny’s injury woes started in the 1996 playoffs. He admitted Joe Dumars hit him in the knee in the 1996 First Round of the playoffs, and he just played through the pain. Hardaway underwent surgery in the offseason but felt the procedure robbed him of explosiveness. Being a big, athletic guard, his explosiveness was one of his deadliest weapons on the court.
Hardaway still made the All-Star team in 1997 and 1998, but he just played 59 and 15 games, respectively. At this point, his 82-game attendance every season was over. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1999 and played there until 2004. He spent two seasons in New York before getting shipped to Orlando, which subsequently waived him. Hardaway then signed with Miami to join Shaquille O’Neal, but it was a decade too late. The Heat waived him to clear out a roster spot, and, just like that, his NBA career was over.
Is Penny Hardaway in the Hall of Fame?
Unfortunately, Penny Hardaway is not in the Hall of Fame, primarily because he was injured most of the time. Fans were robbed of a prime Penny because of multiple knee issues. He only had six injury-free seasons, four of which were All-Star years and three All-NBA selections.
However unlikely that he’ll be inducted, all hope is not lost. Remember, this is the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame. That means his body of work must be considered, including college and international play. Penny was easily one of the best college players ever, averaging 20 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks in two years at Memphis. Plus, he was a member of the Olympic gold medal-winning 1996 U.S. Men’s basketball team.
Here are more Penny Hardaway highlights that should make him a part of any HOF class in the near future:
- Four-time NBA All-Star
- Two-time All-NBA First team
- All-NBA Third Team
- Olympic Gold Medalist
How Good was Penny Hardaway?
Penny’s two All-NBA First-Team selections were a testament to how good a player he was. He was primarily a point guard but can play the wing positions in a pinch because of his size and athleticism. But because of his injuries, he was among the biggest “What ifs” in the history of the NBA.
In his prime, though, only a few are better. There was even a time when his signature shoe line sold better than Air Jordans. That doesn’t have anything to do with his on-court skills but reflects how the basketball community viewed him as a superstar.
Now, as a player, he could’ve been better than what his early numbers show. He actually had a 65% win percentage without Shaq by his side in Orlando, showing what he can do as a main guy on the team. Even Shaq thinks Penny is a better player than Kyrie Irving, although Irving had better career numbers than Hardaway.
Q:”Penny Hardaway or Kyrie Irving?”
Shaq: “Penny Hardaway, stop it… stop it.”
(Drink Champs) pic.twitter.com/ubLl9Hd8wk
— NBA Retweet (@RTNBA) October 14, 2022
In his two All-NBA First Team seasons, Penny averaged 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 1.9 steals in 159 games. He was shooting at a 51.3% clip from the field, 33% from 3, and 76.8% from the line. It can be argued that he was the best guard in the NBA in 1995, when Jordan first retired, and the most dynamic point guard when MJ returned a year later.
Because of his size at the point, Penny can post up, draw double teams, and pass to open-cutting teammates. He was also an intelligent defender who played passing lanes and could get a lot of deflections. John Stockton may be a better defender and passer, Mitch Richmond the better scorer, and Reggie Miller the better shooter; still, Penny Hardaway was the best all-around player at the guard position among the names mentioned.
Is Penny Hardaway Worthy of the Hall of Fame?
The Hall is not immune to questionable selections over the years, which makes Hardaway’s non-inclusion puzzling. Should Penny Hardaway be in the Hall of Fame? Yes! Penny was the best point guard in the NBA for two years, won an Olympic gold medal, and was one of the best collegiate players in history. His career arc was similar to that of Grant Hill, who was deservedly inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
Fortunately, he was inducted into the Orlando Magic franchise Hall of Fame. This is still a fantastic distinction for him, as his numbers and influence on the game when he was still with the team were outstanding.
Wrapping Things Up: Is Penny Hardaway in the Hall of Fame?
Penny Hardaway was one of the most recognizable players in the NBA in the mid-90s, apart from Michel Jordan. He was a member of the 1995 Magic team that defeated Michael Jordan and the Bulls on their way to the NBA Finals. Penny was also named to the All-NBA First Team that season and also the following year.
But because of a myriad of knee injuries, Hardaway’s game leveled off. He was still a pretty good player in the fourth to sixth seasons of his career, but he was clearly robbed of his athleticism. He retired in 2007 when the Miami Heat waived him to make room for a roster spot.
Since he was really good in his prime, is Penny Hardaway in the Hall of Fame? Unfortunately, he is not. Hardaway was eligible to be inducted in 2011, but that stroke of luck hasn’t come his way yet. Hopefully, his time will come, but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that he was one of the best players to grace an NBA court in the 90s.
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