According to Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway was a “cold cat” who could’ve been one of the top 3 players in the history of the game, has his career not been injury-riddled.
Throughout the course of his 19-year career, Shaquille O’Neal has shared the court alongside some of the game’s greatest – LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, and Steve Nash, among a whole bunch of others. However, there is one particular player, who Shaq believes could’ve been an all-time top 3 player in the league, that O’Neal never found success with – Penny Hardaway.
Entering the team roughly around the same time, Shaq and Penny were supposed to be the next iconic duo after Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. The Orlando Magic youngsters made an immediate impact on the court.
In only the 2nd year after drafting Anfernee, the pair managed to lead the Magic to a deep postseason run, all the way to the NBA Finals.
Sadly, Hardaway sustained a horrific left knee injury in the coming years, and never quite recovered from it. However, to this day, O’Neal believes that Penny could’ve been among the greatest players of all time.
“Kobe Bryant took 2 years to get to that level. Penny Hardaway came in and was already like that”: Shaquille O’Neal
In an appearance on “The Pivot Podcast”, Shaq spoke about the greatness of Hardaway and how he was “Kobe before Kobe”. The HOFer further said:
“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.”
“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.”
There is no denying that the O’Neal-Hardaway duo could’ve been a successful had it not been for injuries.