"Because I always tell people he was Kobe before Kobe" - Shaquille O'Neal reflects on what he and Penny Hardaway could have been as a duo
After scrimmaging with Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway for the movie Blue Chips, Shaquille O'Neal was convinced that the Orlando Magic would have their point guard for the future. Shaq was so impressed that he would force Orlando to do the unthinkable and trade their No. 1 overall draft pick, Chris Webber, for Hardaway.
On an episode of The Pivot, Shaquille O'Neal explained that his decision to strong-arm the Magic into getting Penny Hardaway was the right one. A year after Orlando got the explosive player out of Memphis, the Magic would reach the NBA Finals against Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.
Here’s what Shaq had to say about how good his former teammate was:
“I think if I/we didn’t have those egos, we could have definitely worked that out. Because I always tell people he was Kobe before Kobe. Penny Hardaway was a cold cat, he really was, he really was."
Shaquille O'Neal would even go as far as saying that had it not been for that devastating knee injury, Penny Hardaway would have had a legendary career:
“If Penny didn’t get hurt, he would have been one of the top 3 players in the history of the game... Took Kobe two, maybe two and a half years to get to that level. Penny came in, he was already like that. First-year he came, we went to the finals. Penny was cold!... People give me flak like that and say he couldn’t have turned out, but if he wouldn’t have gotten injured, he would definitely be up there, definitely.”
Shaq and Penny carried the Orlando Magic to their first franchise playoff series where they were quickly dismissed via sweep by the Indiana Pacers. Over the next two years, they be in the NBA Finals and then square off against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Orlando eventually became too small for Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway
$120 million in seven years was an offer Shaquille O'Neal could not turn down. His short-lived stay with the Orlando Magic ended in just four eventful but championship-less years. The allure of Hollywood and the opportunity to play for one of the marquee teams in the NBA were just opportunities of a lifetime.
The Orlando Magic agreed to renew Penny’s contract in 1996 for $72 million in 9 years. Shaquille O'Neal, who deservedly should have gotten more, did not feel like Penny was behind him during contract negotiations. It didn’t help that Orlando’s original offer was $54 million over four years.
When the Magic finally came to their senses and offered their franchise player what he was looking for, Shaq had already agreed to sign with the Lakers.