In the first of what is to be a new feature here at HoopsHabit, we will be taking a look at 25 of the most memorable players to ever put on an Orlando Magic jersey. Given that the franchise celebrates 25 years in existence this year, it seemed fitting to do so. Also worth noting is that this will be list of players in no order who were memorable faces of the franchise, unsung heroes or players whose time is best forgotten with the club. It is then up to you the reader to decide if they deserve to be mentioned in the top 25 Magic players of all time, and if so, where on that list they should land. With that in mind, let’s start this thing off with one of the very best to don the blue of Orlando, step forward Mr. Anfernee Hardaway.
There is so much to be said about the one they called “Penny” and yet there will always be an element of “what if” when talking about his time in Orlando. There aren’t many teams who trade downwards to acquire a player in the NBA draft, but that is exactly what the Magic did in the summer of 1993. Although they had the first pick in the draft that year and took Chris Webber with it, Orlando immediately sent him to the Golden State Warriors in a package that brought Hardaway to Central Florida. Although initially playing the vast majority of his minutes at the shooting guard position, by the middle of his rookie campaign he had taken over the reins at point guard of the team from veteran playmaker Scott Skiles. He never looked back from there and between that season and his eventual departure to the Phoenix Suns in 1999, he was an NBA All-Star on four occasions, won MVP honors at the inaugural rookie game at All-Star weekend and led the Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals. Although they would get swept in four games by the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets, more was expected to come from the fantastic one-two punch that was Hardaway and the dominant Shaquille O’Neal.
Sadly those highs would never be reached again both for Penny personally, as well as that incarnation of the Magic. O’Neal upped sticks and left for the bright lights of Los Angeles to join the Lakers and a terrible knee injury to Hardaway signaled the beginning of the end of his career before it had really begun. He soldiered on as the lone star in Orlando for a while, but it quickly became clear that injury had robbed him of his explosiveness. Nevertheless he is remembered so fondly by Magic fans for giving his all in trying to help the organization win a championship, even if the marriage between player and team was a little brief. Ironically it would seem his career was similar to that of the Orlando Magic during their brief life as an NBA franchise, so near yet so far.
Now it is over to you, where do you think Hardaway ranks in among the greatest Magic players of all time? Can somebody who achieved a great amount personally but in such a short space of time really even be considered for the No. 1 spot? Or given that this organization has only made the NBA Finals twice and he was one of the main reasons for one of those appearances, does that achievement alone count given the Magic have never won a title? Technically, he has helped take this team as far as it has ever gone before in the postseason and that should be taken into consideration. Whatever you think, and do leave your opinions down below, there’s no doubting Penny was a legend in the Magic Kingdom and rightly deserves to be spoken about as one of the most distinguishable players in the 25-year history of the Orlando Magic.