For a few years, Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal got Orlando Magic going. Three years after the franchise came into existence, the Magic would draft in O’Neal and a year later, Hardaway. Together, they were making the relatively new franchise relevant at a time when Michael Jordan was ruling the league.
The Magic reached their first playoff in 1993/94 but couldn’t get past Indiana Pacers in the first round. By the next season, they would further improve their record. Their 1994/95 playoff run was highlighted by their win over Chicago Bulls. But Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets was waiting to rout them in the Finals. It was a season when Shaquille O’Neal was showing signs of greatness. Leading the NBA in scoring, he finished second in the MVP voting.
By then Hardaway was also gaining recognition in the NBA. Kobe Bryant, then in his high school, once admitted to having looked up to Hardaway for his gameplay. In fact, it was what led him to meet Shaq, with whom he would later build a great partnership, for the first time. Bryant once approached Hardaway for a signature but didn’t get much response. He then saw O’Neal there and went to him. The big man happily signed for Bryant- the first meeting between two legendary players and great friends.
24 years ago today was the last day of the Shaq & Penny era.
They were both just 24 years old and only played 3 seasons together. pic.twitter.com/j1U7kVOZSJ
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 27, 2020
Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway would play their final game together against Michael Jordan and his Bulls
Had Shaq not moved to Los Angeles Lakers, who knows, we might have heard Penny and Shaq instead of Kobe and Shaq.
“All I was thinking was [we were] the new Magic and the new Kareem. When we played together it was awesome. He was Kobe before Kobe. So I think if we had stayed together we definitely would have gotten one. Maybe two,” Shaq told CBS Sports in 2018.
But after the 1995/96 season, where they lost to Michael Jordan and his Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, Shaq was no longer staying in Orlando. While Shaq was at the 1996 Olympics, a poll conducted by Orlando Sentinel asked it he was worth $115 million over seven years. 91% said no. Not long after, O’Neal joined the Lakers on a seven-year $121 million deal.
May 28, 1996, was the day when Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal era, perhaps a short-lived one, at the Orlando Magic came to an end.