Penny Hardaway Chats With Magic Drive Time
Penny Talks Finals, Olympics, Super Teams and More
By Dan Savage
August 19, 2016
ORLANDO – As one of the greatest players in Magic history, Penny Hardaway attracts plenty of attention any time he reflects back on his days in Orlando.
This week was no different. Hardaway hopped on Magic Drive Time with Dante Marchitelli and Dennis Neumann to talk about his glory days in Orlando, his Olympic experiences, the formation of super teams and more.
Here are a few highlights from their conversation:
DM: What is a summer like for Penny Hardaway these days?
PH: The summer is pretty cool. I have an AAU program. The program has been very successful, been doing really well. That’s what I’ve pretty much done for the summer.
DM: What comes to mind for you thinking about your (Olympic) days?
PH: It was just so much fun. It was really a flash. There was so much going on, because you have so many events, so many people. It was actually in the United States, which was really a blessing for me. I was glad I was able to do that on our home soil. And I know it’s the same as if you go out of the country. Like the guys are in Rio and they just want to bring gold home. It was extra special for me, because it was in Atlanta, which is really close to Memphis and my family and friends could come. And to win gold for the country, it was an unbelievable feeling.
DN: When you look at the game, and you watch like right now the Olympic games, has the game changed much for you as you watch it and what you see?
PH: Yeah, it’s definitely changed. It’s more of an offensive game right now. It’s really not a lot of defense. Everything is really fixed towards the scoring part of the game. Not much team ball either. There’s not a lot of guys trying to get other guys involved. It’s just a lot of one-on-one basketball nowadays. So, that’s what you’re seeing.
DN: You’re right. That’s the one thing I notice as I watch this (Olympic) team – and they’re successful, we know that it’s a good team – but the prospect of team basketball in what they do, it’s not like it used to be. And you as a playmaker, it must just standout to you?
PH: Absolutely. A guy that likes to get other people involved and make the game much easier, the extra pass. It’s just hard to watch isolation basketball. I mean, I know those guys are good at what they do, but it just gives the defense an advantage if they know all you’re going to do is go one-on-one, they can load up on you, make you take tough shots. All it takes is for Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony to have awful shooting nights and then all of sudden, you’re in a battle, because there isn’t any defense that’s going to cover up for that on the other end.
DM: What are some stories you can tell us about your (Olympic) teammates?
PH: Well the best story started off with our team is that it was a battle royal in practice, because we were all rivals. Even though we were on the same team, myself vs. Gary Payton, myself vs. John Stockton, vice versa. Karl Malone vs. Charles Barkley. Grant Hill vs. Scottie Pippen. Mitch Richmond and Reggie Miller. It was like we were going at it every practice. So that was the most fun part, because we felt like practice was going to really be our games. And then going into other games, it was Charles antics with the other teams. He was almost telling teams before the game started like, “you know you don’t have a chance, right?” Charles would go over to the other team and say “at what point are you guys going to give up?” (Laughter)
DN: Was there a guy, Penny, on that team that you really didn’t know going in that you really enjoyed having for a teammate, that you just had a lot of fun with?
PH: You know what, really all of the guys. I was really just happy to be around all of the guys. Gary Payton and I got really close, because GP is always talking trash. Always like with the scowl on his face. But we really got close during the Olympics, because he was one guy that every time we matched up, it was like almost a fight. It was definitely pleasant to be around him. He’s a tough competitor, but an even better person. I could say the same about all those guys. The one guy that I was really shocked the most about was coach Sloan. Jerry Sloan was a guy that I always respected, but I thought he was mean. Like he was a guy that was just no nonsense. When coach and I got closer during the Olympics, I said “coach I always just thought you were this mean guy, but it was really nice to get to know you and your family.” So it was some fond memories.
DM: I really enjoyed your 30 for 30: This Magic Moment. I thought some tremendous insights and maybe a lot of those that were here in Central Florida remember more than I did, but it was impressed upon me that you really wanted to be here and be part of Central Florida and come play for this Orlando Magic team, didn’t you? With you second workout, and I know your interaction with Shaq on Blue Chips. You really wanted to be a part of this, didn’t you?
PH: Yeah, my whole focus when I was doing the movie Blue Chips was to make Shaq feel like he couldn’t live without me. I spoon fed him every single time. I gave him the ball in every position that he wanted the ball and I was on his coattail, everywhere he went in L.A., I was there. I was like “I have to be in Orlando playing with you. You need me.” And it worked. I really wanted to be in Orlando playing with Shaq for sure. And I wanted to be there.
DN: Go back Penny for us on that night in 1993 – doesn’t seem like it could be possibly 24 years ago – but when you were drafted. Take us back to that night. What do you remember most about that evening? You know the deal, the Magic trade Chris Webber and get the three picks as well which was huge. But what do you remember about that night when you came to Orlando?
PH: At the draft, I just remember a reporter telling me that … “if I get picked third by Golden State, that I was going to get traded for No. 1.” I kind of felt like my second workout was really good and I knew that I had worked on Shaq enough that it could possibly happen. But you never know until it really happens. And when I got picked third by Golden State, I kind of had a feeling that I was going to get traded, because Golden State wanted a big and Orlando wanted me. And that’s just how the balls bounced, because Philadelphia was sitting at No. 2 and they wanted a big man. So if Orlando wouldn’t have picked Chris Webber than Philadelphia would have picked Chris Webber and Golden State would have been out of the picture. So it was just one of those nights, where I was just like “okay, if I get picked third, I think I’m going to get traded to go to Orlando.” And when it happened, I was, man I was so excited.
DM: Penny, that Finals run. That had to have been unlike anything else. You just mentioned a few minutes ago, your favorite memory playing in The Finals. This city was electric. You had to have been blown away with kind of how it all came together so quickly the camaraderie, the chemistry with you and Shaq, the support from this community – really on a national stage with Lil Penny, with your shoes. Everything just exploded for you. That had to have been just an unbelievable run for you?
PH: Man, it was so exciting. It was like unbelievable how the fans’ support, the best fans definitely in the NBA. They came out and they supported us. It was definitely, you know, because of them that we won on so many nights, because we got the energy from them. And to have that magical run, to go to The Finals – the only thing is to not finish it is what hurts the most because we were the better team in my mind. They were a veteran team, but we had the most talent. And after that first game, everything just went downhill. But that run itself was unbelievable. I’ll never forget that. And watching it on the 30 for 30, it gave me chill bumps just watching that run again.
DN: It was a special time in Orlando. You said it perfectly. Penny, as you look and remember that team, 57-win team in 94-95, you go to The Finals, and what you just said, you felt like you had the better team than the Houston Rockets. And you look back and think of that series, a 4-0 series in favor of Houston, but boy that series – and I tell people all the time – that was a close series. It went down to the end in each game. That was an extremely tight four games.
PH: Not to disrespect any of the veterans, you know Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, you know they had some phenomenal role players in Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, those guys, Mario Elie, they did an unbelievable job. We smashed them in the regular season. We had so much confidence, because when they beat the San Antonio Spurs – we had trouble with the Spurs – we were like “Oh, we’ve got Houston. We got what we wanted.” And we came out of the gate just on fire and we had them down. But once they gained confidence and just took over the series, it just seemed like every shot, every open three, Mario Elie, Kenny Smith or Robert Horry or Sam Cassell (took), they made. I think they shot 80% from three that series. Honestly, it seemed like they never missed. Every time we doubled Hakeem Olajuwon, it was a made three. So, you go back on that series, like you said every game was close. It was 4-0, but every game went down to the wire and that was just unfortunate for us, because we definitely had an opportunity to turn that series around.
DM: Penny, I’ve got to get your thoughts on this. As you sit and watch these super teams … Kevin Durant going to the Warriors, you saw what happened down in South Beach, did you ever want to play with (Michael) Jordan, did you ever want to play with Karl Malone?
PH: No, I always wanted to play against those guys. That was unheard of when I was playing. You wanted to compete against Michael Jordan, because they were the best. You wanted to beat them. Never once in my mind, I went, “I would love to play with him.” I was always like “man, we’ve got to beat them.”
DM: It’s a different mentality now, isn’t it? That part has changed with these super teams. You guys wanted to beat those guys night in and night out.
PH: Yeah, and Kevin Durant was one play away from going to The Finals and maybe winning it. They were up, I think, 3-1 on Golden State and they had the opportunity to finish the deal a couple of times and didn’t. And to leave and go to Golden State, hey, I can’t speak on how he feels, but he was so close to going to The Finals.
DM: Penny, we’d love to see you when we come rolling through Memphis. Can we get you back here? We’d love to see Penny in Central Florida too at some point?
PH: Absolutely. I need to start making more appearances there to come to the games and be around the fans. I’m so appreciative of Orlando. I am Orlando. Orlando made me. So when people link my name, they link my name to Orlando and nowhere else. I’ll always be indebted to Orlando for that and grateful at the same time.