The 1996 Chicago Bulls Vs. The 2001 Los Angeles Lakers: Who Wins a 7 Game Series? By @ProfessorCorria

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What happens when an immovable object clashes with an unstoppable force? When two opposing factions chuck full of immortal combatants square off after they have left a path of decimated antagonists in their wake. On one side you have Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen walking into the arena with the heads of conquered feudal kings in their stead. Swaggering in from the opposite direction would be marginally younger monarchs Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal chasing apparitions that exist in the far reaches of every fan’s memory, ghosts that can never be exercised because of the past accomplishments of opponents that can never be vanquished because they only exist in everyone’s mind. The 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers were the two most dominant teams of the past 20 years, vastly superior to any other teams because of the combination of talent, coaching, intelligence, leadership, hunger and the competitive blood lust of their best players. It is beyond difficult to determine who would win in a best of 7 series between these two teams. A lot would depend on the home court advantage. Who would come out on top? Would it be the Jordan, the supreme basketball Apex Predator? Or Kobe and Shaq, both of whom possessed competitive mean streaks, when not directed at each other, that would devastate opponents.

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The 1996 Chicago Bulls were the definition of dominance, 72-10 regular season record, which they followed with a 15-3 run in the playoffs. Oh and they just happened to go 69-13 the very next season. The 1996 NBA season should have just been known as “Michael Jordan Revenge Tour” after the Bulls were ushered out of the 1995 playoffs in the 2nd round by the Orlando Magic. But, with the addition of Dennis Rodman, a rebounding machine and defensive stalwart, the Bulls now had a triad of stars with varying skillsets that Phil Jackson could fit a solid group of role players around. Michael Jordan was still awesome, but this wasn’t Michael Jordan at his zenith, but Scottie Pippen had come into his prime when Jordan had his brief retirement, and was truly like water, a formless force that was capable at filling in any holes that the 1996 might have had.

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The 1996 Chicago Bulls averaged 105.2 PPG, while only surrendering 92.9 PPG, frightening. They averaged 115.2 points per 100 possessions and only gave up 101.8 per 100 possessions, both tops in the league, which gives even a better snap shot for how dominant they truly were. Granted, the NBA was slightly watered down and top heavy in terms of the dispersion of talent and total talent in the league in general. In the Playoffs they crushed the Miami Heat 3-0, which featured Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning and not much else. In the Semi-Finals they locked horns with a New York Knicks unit featuring the usual suspects like Ewing, Starks, Oakley, and Anthony Mason. The Knicks, 2 years removed from an NBA Finals appearance, were in decline but still presented a tough physical and mental challenge. However the Bulls dispatched them in 4-1. The Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic were supposed to be a “clash of titans”, a true test of the OG’s versus a group of young challengers. However, in game one a 38 point thrashing of Shaq and Penny made it clear that the Bulls were going to crush the young Magic until they tapped out. They did throw in the towel, suffering a 4 game demolition at the hands of the hungry Bulls, losing each game by an average of 13.4 points. The 1996 NBA Finals versus the Seattle Supersonics were interesting because the Bulls ran out to a 3-0 lead, but then dropped two in a row as the Sonics stormed back, before eventually suffocating them in game 6, 87-75. The Sonics coach George Karl made a serious error in judgment by not letting Gary Payton, the best defensive Point Guard in NBA history, guard Michael Jordan until game 4. Jordan abused Seattle in games 1-3, but Payton chased, harassed and agitated Jordan into 3 subpar games, but by then it was too little, too late. Payton and Seattle’s overall speed bothered Jordan “2.0” a bit, but Pippen’s constant traps and defense coupled with Rodman’s rebounding helped carry the Bulls to a 4-2 series victory.

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The 2001 Los Angeles Lakers were a frustrating team during the regular season due to their two stars complete apathy towards one another and the lethargic nature in which the slogged through their 82 games, registering a 56-26 record. The defending champs were sitting at 48-26 before coach Phil Jackson was able to reign in young superstar Kobe Bryant and bring him back on the reservation after a season long feud with Shaq and the coaching staff. They were able to secure the number two seed in the western conference on the last day of the season, riding an 8 game winning streak into the playoffs, which is when all the fun began. The Lakers were the 23rd ranked team on defense in the NBA during the regular season turned into a defensive killing machine in the playoffs, only surrendering 100 plus points 3 times in 16 playoff games ,frustrating opponents by running them off the 3 point line, funneling them into O’Neal, and using their big perimeter players like Ron Harper, Rick Fox and Kobe Bryant to trap other team’s big men. It was also a huge luxury to have the two best players in the NBA on the same team mixed in with skilled role players such as Robert Horry, Horace Grant, Derek Fisher and Brian Shaw who were just focused on winning and helped assuage the tension between Bryant and O’Neal. Sound familiar?

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The 2001 Lakers opened the NBA Playoffs on a tear and kept on rolling, sweeping the Portland Trailblazer team that took them 7 games in Western Conference Finals the year before, winning by margins of 13, 18 and 13 again. The Blazers were a very solid team that went 50-32 during the regular season, and featured Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudemire and Steve Smith.  The Lakers then turned their attention to their “pseudo rivals” the Sacramento “Queens”, as Shaq fashioned them, and promptly swept them out of the playoffs. It’s easy to see that the Lakers were in a “zone” because the year before Sacramento pushed them to 5 games in the first round, the maximum amount of games at the time, and then pushed them to 7 games in 2002. The most eye popping thing about the Lakers 2001 playoff run was the absolute destruction of the number 1 seed San Antonio Spurs, spearheaded by a red hot Kobe Bryant. It’s so interesting to watch Kobe dominate Western Conference powers and then to see Shaq destroy whatever JV squad came out of the East. The Lakers crushed the Spurs, including 39 and 29 point slaughters of the spurs in games 3 and 4. The Lakers dropped their only game of the playoffs to Allen Iverson, and the Philadelphia 76ers in game 1 of the NBA Finals, with Iverson dropping 48 points. The Lakers took the next 4 games from the Sixers, including 3 straight in Philly, on their way to their 2nd straight NBA Championship.

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A matchup between the 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers would be a VERY competitive, well played and hotly contested series, but the real question is who would win? I think the Bulls would have their hands full with a “in his prime” Shaq, who was a destructive force, and “afro” Kobe, but I still think that they would find a way to claw their way to a victory. Jordan would struggle a bit with Kobe’s quickness and length, Robert Horry’s constant trapping and Shaq patrolling the middle. The difference for the Bulls would be Scottie Pippen’s defense and ability to play Point-Forward, which in turn would create huge match-up problems for the Lakers. The Lakers could keep throwing the ball to Shaq in the middle until the Bulls cried uncle, but I think all the missed free-throws would sink them in the end. Watching all the games that have been on NBATV the past few months has got me hyped!!! I got the bulls in 7, who do you have?

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Michael Jordan Torches the New York Knicks for 54 points in the 1993 NBA playoffs

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PLEASE watch and enjoy this video, fore this is Michael Jordan at his apex, his nadir his undisputed PRIME. 1993, game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals trailing 2-1 against an absolute defensive killing machine. Jordan comes out and destroys the New York kicks from the beginning to the final horn. Fin.

The 15 biggest Chokes in NBA playoff History : By @ProfessorCorria

15.) The Atlanta Hawks get swept by the Orlando Magic in the 2nd round of the 2010 playoffs by the Orlando Magic, by an average of 25 points per game. If you looked up mediocrity in the dictionary, a team picture of the 2010 Atlanta Hawks would be starring right back at you. After this stunning display of ordinariness how did the Hawks respond? By giving the PAINFULLY average Joe Johnson a 6 year $126 million dollar deal.

14.) Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks 2007 Choke Job vs. the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, after winning 67 games during the regular season. Fresh of their collapse in the 2006 NBA finals where they blew a 2-0 lead to the Miami Wade’s, the Mavericks and the 2007 MVP were PUNKED by the Baron Davis and the Golden State Warriors, furthering the narrative that Dirk was softer than the fur on French Montana’s fur coat.

13.) The Portland Trailblazers give up 15 point 4th quarter lead to the LA Lakers in Game 7, after being down 3-1 in the series. In 2000 the “Jailblazers” could have squelched an impending Lakers dynasty, but instead they choked away a 15 point 4th quarter lead, which when you look at their roster makes all the sense in the world.

12.) Tracy McGrady and the Orlando Magic Collapse vs. the Detroit Pistons after being up 3-1 in the series. Remember those Kobe vs. T-Mac comparisons? El Oh El. McGrady Said, “we’re looking forward to our next opponent.” The Magic then went out and lost game5 by 31 and games 6 and 7 by 15 points a piece. Please Enjoy McGrady making an ass out of himself .

11.) Kobe Bryant 4 Air Balls in the 1997 Playoffs. This was the ultimate learning experience and we all came to know that Kobe Bean Bryant doesn’t fear the “moment”. But, at the time him shooting 4 air balls in an elimination game with Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and Shaquille O’Neal on the floor left everyone scratching their heads.

10.) Scottie Pippen gets a “Migraine” in game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. Hmmmmm, so funny how the narrative can change on a player over the course of time. Scottie Pippen was once thought of as fragile and soft, but after winning 6 championships and gutting out a back injury in the 1998 finals, his legacy is unmarked. But, you know MJ never let him live this moment down.

9.) Charles Smith in the game 5 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals vs the Chicago Bulls gets his shot repeatedly sent by Bulls defenders. Depending on whom you are a fan off this highlight is either a comedy reel or a horror show. Enjoy.

8.) Just dunk the damn ball Patrick!!!!! 1995…Game 7 of the Eastern Confence Semi-Finals…Knicks vs the Pacers. Madison Square Garden…The Mecca… 7-1 Center Patrick Ewing drives the lane with the game on the line, and instead of throwing it down, Pat tries to lay the ball in. This missed lay-up signaled the end of the Knicks as a contender for the NBA championship. Rumor has it that after the Ewing’s shot careened off the rim that if you listened closely enough, you could actually hear the sound of the New York Knicks championship window closing.

7.) Michael Jordan AKA the Goat AKA black Jesus returned to the NBA in 1995 after an 18 month layoff, and he had his moments, but he also had some “other” moments. Including, getting ripped by Nick Anderson in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. He was wearing #45 in that game, he promptly switched back to #23 after Nick Anderson took his loaf of bread. Don’t you wish there was a “First Take” then, so we’d have video footage of Skelator and Hairline talking about how the GOAT had lost his “Clutch Gene”?

6.) Speaking of Nick Anderson, poor Nick Anderson. In Game 1 of the 1995 finals the heavily favored Orlando Magic were in position to win vs. the Houston Rockets, when Nick Anderson missed 4 straight free throws, submarining the series and his career, as he was never the same. This….. Is painful to watch.

5.) The Los Angeles Lakers blow a 24 point lead in game 4 of the 2008 NBA finals, sigh. The Lakers finally got rolling early against the defensive juggernaut Boston Celtics, only to gag away the lead. If you’re a Lakers fan or watch the Lakers often you know that giving up big early leads is just par for the course. This Loss set the table for the drubbing in game 6, in which the Celtics beat the Lakers by 39 points.

4.) Karl Malone in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA finals vs. the Chicago Bulls. Malone missed 2 free-throws with 12 seconds left that would have given the Jazz the lead and a chance to steal home court from the Chicago Bulls. Scottie Pippen walked by Malone and whispered, “the mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays.” Malone, the MVP that year, went right ahead and peed down his leg and missed both free-throws. The Bulls gained possession and “you know who” hit the game winner as time expired.

3.) LeBron James VS. the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Before LBJ took his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010, he pulled a disappearing in the biggest game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Makes you wonder if his mind was already on bird watching in Miami, because he looked lost against the Boston Celtics.

2.) Magic “Tragic” Johnson gets ripped to shreds by the media and opponents for his lackluster performance in the “clutch” in the 1984 NBA Finals, his first matchup against rival Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. For some reason he dribbled out the clock when Game 2 was tied and the Lakers lost in overtime. He committed a costly turnover that sent Game 4 to overtime and missed two free throws that would’ve tied the score. The Lakers still made it to Game 7…where Johnson lost the ball with just under a minute remaining, all but sealing the title for the Celtics.

1.) John Starks shoots 2-18 in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA finals, going 0-10 in the 4th quarter. The struggle that night was beyond authentic, as you can see poor John Starks who worked his way up from the CBA, to starting for the New York Knicks. This short highlight pretty much sums up John Starks night, as he was in his own personal hell.

Why Do You Hate LeBron? BY @ProfessorCorria

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“They fear what they don’t understand, hate what they can’t conquer….I guess it’s just that inferior man became a monster”- Nasir Jones

 

Potential; as opposed to the actual, also capable of being or becoming. We’re all born with potential, an impending promise of what we could become if we live up to expectations and explore all the possibilities which are presented by our God given abilities. So what do you do with an individual who has lived up to their perceived potential? Do you celebrate them for achieving all of what society had projected that they would become or do you move the metaphorical goalposts? Do you crown the conquering young man who you’ve watched develop since he was a fledgling novice or do you skewer him for any slight misstep on his path to glory? What do you do when you accomplish your ultimate goal and it’s still not enough? When an individual ascends to the top of the mountain in sports, one of the last few true meritocracies still left in our society, how can you deny them? We fans, the crowd at the Roman Coliseum, project our value system onto our modern day gladiators and get upset if they cannot live up to the ideals that we ourselves couldn’t aspire to. We never respect the gentle or moderate king, we want our athletes and coaches to act like people that we ourselves would never want to be around or work for. We romanticize the Apex predator, glamorize the cutthroat assassin, and celebrate the leaders who act like dictators or tyrants. Pusha- T was correct when he surmised that “being humble gets no respect.”

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            LeBron James time is now. He’s fulfilled the promise of that first Sports Illustrated cover at age 16, and done it all with a smile on his face. Sure it was fun to poke fun at LeBron James and the Miami Heat when they were struggling in their first season with the “big 3”. Of course it was amusing to snicker at LeBron as he writhed and came up small in the 2011 NBA Finals. However, isn’t it just as enthralling and refreshing to watch him blossom into the complete player and leader that we always thought he could be? Something that was very illuminating was an interview with a James contemporary Kevin Durant after his team was eliminated in the 2nd round of the 2013 Western Conference Playoffs. Durant stated, “Of course, the ultimate goal in this league is to win a championship. But I’m never going to say I wasted a year. I’m blessed to even wake up and do something I love every day. So it’s never wasted.” He continued, “I don’t give a damn, I’m going to be who I’m going to be. I’m not Kobe Bryant. I’m not Michael Jordan. I’m not LeBron James. I’m not Magic Johnson. I’m me. I’m not going to ever compromise myself, my integrity and what I believe in for winning some basketball games and winning a championship. That’s just not how I was brought up.” This statement gave me real pause because the words were so powerful and against the grain. Instantly the thought of James crossed my mind, because he had been hinting around these very same sentiments his entire career. He’s not Jordan, he’s not Magic, he’s not Kobe, he’s LeBron James, in the same way that all those players weren’t like those that came before them.

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            Chew on this bit of data for a moment Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double during the 1962 season, 30.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 11.4 APG, on 48% shooting. However in 1962 the average NBA team totaled an average of 152 possessions per game. In comparison, LeBron James 2013 averages of 26.8 PPG, 8 RPG and 7.3 APG on 57% percent shooting have come on 93 possessions per game. When you turn the TV and listen to commentators, some of which are former players, yes we see you “Tragic” Johnson and we didn’t forget the 1984 Finals that you singlehandedly choked away in 3 separate games vs. your biggest rival, cast aspersions on James depending on the half. People act as if they’ve never stumbled, had a setback or fallen short of their goal and they won’t allow the modern day athlete any room to grow. Where is the perspective, where is the fairness, and why are we always in such a rush to judgment. Remember when Kobe couldn’t win a ring without Shaq? Not far enough back for you? How about when Michael Jordan was a selfish gunner who didn’t make his teammates better and would never win a championship being the leading scorer in the league or be as good as his predecessors Larry, Magic and Dr. J? Why must we always do this obstinate dance? We build up the young talent, crush them when they don’t meet our criterions and then sidle up next to them like fawning romantics once they have their breakthrough? Why do we have to constantly crush our emerging Phenom’s with the weight of the successes that their predecessors enjoyed?

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            LeBron James gets it done, just not in the way that you’re used to and it makes you uncomfortable. One game it might be 35, 10 and 12. The very next it might be 24,18, and 7. He might have 20, 8 and 5 the next night, but hound a top 5 player into a 3-19 shooting night. He’s not like a Kobe or Jordan who’s going to come out and drop 55 on you and call you everything but a child of God while doing it. It’s not him. It’s not in his DNA. Like Dan LeBatard say, “He’s a 6-9, 275 pound basketball calculator, making high efficiency decisions in midair.” His role on the court changes game to game, quarter by quarter, minute by minute and sometimes even possession by possession. LeBron’s athletic ability and size alone generate such a seismic disturbance on the court that his mere presence creates a vacuum that his opponents are constantly trying to avoid him. He always makes the right basketball play. Isn’t that what fans of the game always say they want from NBA players, instead of being a self-interested, callus gunner? It seems as though a great deal of young players like Durant, Paul George, Derek Rose, Kyrie Irving and a myriad of others are following his lead and not trying to be like Kobe’s, Jordan’s and Allen Iverson’s of the world. Is there anything wrong with seeing more efficient team basketball? NO?  Then why the strong outpouring of criticism and dare I say “hate” when he struggles through a half? Do you really hate LeBron or is the reflection in the mirror showing you a portrait of your own missed potential.

Kobe Bryant: The Last of the Mohican’s By @ProfessorCorria

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“Perseverance..See the fake hustler rapper..to them..it hurts to hear this. Oh you went platinum?.. yea that’s nice..now let me see you do the same thing twice. Three times, four times..then a couple of mo’ times…please you’re Amateur Night…this is SHOWTIME.” – Nasir Jones.

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Why are we always in a rush? Why is there always such haste to see who’s “next”? We love to wax poetically about the potential of certain stars or athletes instead of enjoying what is taking place in front of us in the present time. Why can’t we wait for things to play out instead of jumping to conclusions? The proof is in the pudding, are we judging on potential or on production? The most important aspects about a basketball player are immeasurable. Do they have that indomitable will to compete, the desire to improve, and aspirations to push the game to its threshold? All of these characteristics are what separate Kobe from the pack. He’s mean, he doesn’t care if you like him or not, and most importantly he’s unafraid. If he misses the last shot, so be it. If his teammates and other players around the league don’t like him, who cares? It’s a mentality, it’s a sickness, it’s an affliction to be as driven to win as Kobe Bryant is. There have been so many great talents to play the game, but five championships aren’t for everybody. It’s a mindset; it’s an approach that affects you to the point where nothing else matters but being the ultimate winner. Have you ever looked at Kobe Bryant and thought to yourself, “Man Kobe didn’t get the most he could out of himself.” Yea, didn’t think so.

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Kobe Bryant has truly persevered through all of the eras. He came into the league as a high flying 17 year old, and 17 years, 1,448 games and 53,558 minutes played later he is a cold blooded, mid-range assassin. Kobe Bryant, from the beginning, has been ensnared in one comparison after another. Will he better than Michael Jordan? Is he a greater Laker then Jerry West or Magic Johnson? Is he better then Iverson? Vince Carter? T-Mac? And sure enough the LeBron James comparisons soon followed. If the worst thing you can say is, “Well he’s not as good as Jordan”, what are you really saying? If they can only compare you to a ghost, that means that you have no current peer. What LeBron James is doing is incredible, and should be admired, but he and Kobe are not peers. There are so many great players in today’s game, and the NBA is in great hands, but there is something distinct about watching Kobe Bryant compete.

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The Best way to describe Kobe Bryant is different. He is dissimilar from most NBA players in every possible way. There’s something regal about his approach to the game, a stately presence that shows that he knows his place in history and how important it is for him to perform at an optimum level every time he takes the court. There never has been or will be a time where he looks out of shape or unprepared, and he’s arguably the most fundamentally sound player in the history of the NBA. He relishes in the fact that everyone who paid for a ticket to get into the arena will have their eyes trained on him, and for better or worse he will go to great lengths to put on a show. Kobe delights in the fact that every player in the NBA is geared up to challenge him every game that he plays in, because he wants to attack them even harder. It’s what he lives for, he carries that predatory instinct that Michael Jordan had before him. He wants to see you at your peak level, bring you to your knees, and then watch you crumble as you succumb to his will. If Kobe could have an 82 game season where every game down to the final 30 seconds he could die and go to heaven. Fans would love to see him trust his teammates more, but when you’ve spent summers in the gym working out from 4 AM to 4 PM, sometimes your belief in yourself trumps the normal protocol of working within the traditional team structure. Why find the open man when you have been taking a thousand shots a day in the summer and your teammate spent all of season partying?

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Kobe Bryant AKA the Black Mamba AKA Zero Dark Thirty AKA Vino AKA Mr. 81 points AKA Lord Of The Rings has done it all and then some. He lives for the moment that your favorite player cowers in, and it’s not because he’s super clutch, it’s because he doesn’t care if he misses. He can deal with the glory or the anguish that comes from missing late minute baskets. That’s why the criticism cascades off of him and affects his fans more than it does the man himself. Kobe outscored a LOADED Dallas Maverick team 62-61 after three quarters by his lonesome, removed himself from the game for the 4th quarter, and was roundly criticized for not trying to score more. So what did he do? Three weeks later he shelled the Toronto Raptors for 81 points, but was critiqued for only having two assists. In 2013, in his 17th year in the NBA you can still turn on embarrassingly vapid shows like “First Take” and hear two idiots debating about if a game in mid-January is going to test Kobe’s “clutch gene”, or on a scale of 1 to 10 how disappointed they are that Kobe took 23 shots in a loss. This kind of talk is senseless, his spot is solidified, his legacy already cemented in stone along with players like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. For better or worse Kobe Bryant remains the NBA’s most interesting player, who’s Swiss-Army Knife like skill set is still wreaking havoc throughout the league. One thing is for sure, Kobe Bryant is officially the last of the Mohicans, a great white shark from a different era and a different NBA landscape, who will be sorely missed once he no longer exists. It’s amazing to watch the current group of young NBA stars flourish, but there is only one Kobe Bryant. He knows that there may be some ten year old kid watching him in the nosebleed seats that might be seeing him play in person for the first and only time, and his play reflects that. He might not have as great a career as Jordan when it’s all said and done, and he might not be as good as LeBron is right now, but it won’t ever be for a lack of effort or preparedness.

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BONUS VIDEO!!!!!!

The Chosen #1

What comes to mind when you hear the word Penny? For many they think of money, and rightfully so, as the term penny is most commonly used in reference to 1 cent of American currency. For another group, they think of footwear. Many kids and young adults alike think of former NBA player Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s array of basketball sneakers. Sneakers that are still retro’d today by Nike, because of their mass appeal. What do I think of when I hear the word Penny? I think of the the silky smooth 6’7″ point guard, I think of the McDonald’s All-American that put a small university on the map, I think of the NBA Rookie Challenge MVP, I think of Butch McRae, I think of the man who didn’t back down from Michael Jordan on the biggest stage, I think of what could’ve been, what should’ve been.

Anfernee “Pretty” Hardaway, yes I said pretty. As a young child, Hardaway’s grandmother and primary caregiver nicknamed him “pretty”, but because she possessed such a thick southern accent it sounded like “penny” and well, the rest is history. Hardaway grew up in Memphis, Tennessee in what’s described as a “shotgun house”, which translates into a very small rectangular structure with three to four rooms all in a row, with no hallways or open space. These houses have been identified as a sign of poverty, dating back centuries. Even in these far from ideals conditions, Penny flourished and became a Memphis folk hero by the time he reached high school. As a senior at Treadwell High School, Hardaway averaged 36 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks a game and was named Parade Magazine’s National Player of the Year.

Hardaway chose to stay close to home and enrolled at Memphis State University (now referred to as the University of Memphis) in 1990. Hardaway then endured one of the craziest freshman years imaginable. He was ruled academically ineligible and was forced to sit out the 90-91 season. This prompted Penny to focus solely on his course load, and he finished the year with a 3.4 GPA,  en route to securing a spot on the highly coveted Dean’s List. The most eventful thing that happen to Hardaway was both away from the court, and the classroom. He was robbed at gunpoint and shot in the foot. Luckily for Hardaway and the basketball world, the injuries were not life, nor career threatening and Hardaway bounced right back.

The summer of 92′ rolled around and Hardaway was invited to scrimmage against the “Dream Team” as part of the USA Basketball Developmental Team. Hardaway teamed with Grant Hill, Chris Webber, Bobby Hurley, Jamal Mashburn, and a host of other college stars. The developmental team came to play, and really worked the future NBA Hall of  Famers, that went undefeated en route to winning a gold medal in Barcelona. To this day, this developmental team is the only team that can say they beat the “Dream Team”.

The summer workouts with Team USA really helped the college stars, particularly Hardaway. He turned heads and made a name for himself during his sophomore season, but he made his mark during his breakout junior season. Hardaway averaged 23 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals as a junior and was a consensus first team All-American. Hardaway decided to capitalize on his performance during the 92-93′ season and declared early for the NBA Draft. Only one year later, during what would’ve been his senior season, Hardaway’s #25 jersey was retired by Memphis State.

The Orlando Magic owned the first pick in the 93′ draft and had there hearts set on drafting Michigan’s Chris Webber, with hopes of pairing him with their young center Shaquille O’Neal, creating what they thought could be the NBA’s most dominating front court. Penny saw things differently and expressed interest in teaming with Shaq and even requested a second workout with the Magic to prove why he should be selected #1 overall. Hardaway’s plan seemed to fail as the Magic took Webber with the first pick, and Hardaway went 3rd to Golden State. The Orlando organization really did like Hardaway but felt they couldn’t pass on Webber. Moments later the Golden State brass made a call to Orlando in hopes of acquiring Webber from the Magic. Golden State was offering Hardaway and THREE future first round picks. Orlando felt that with Hardaway and multiple future first round picks the deal would benefit them greatly and went through with it, making Hardaway an extremely happy young man, as he had got his wish of team with Shaq in Orlando.

Orlando started Penny at shooting guard as a rookie, with veteran Scott Skiles running the point. Hardaway, at 6’7″ 195lbs was the size of many NBA shooting guards, or small forwards, but his game was one that required him to have the ball in his hands in order to create plays. The NBA, with the exception of Magic Johnson hadn’t seen a player at this size posses such skill and ability at the point guard position. Hardaway’s play prompted his promotion to starting point guard by mid season. He went on to win the MVP award of the inaugural Rookie Game during All-Star Weekend and helped the Magic clinch their first playoff berth, on the way to the organizations first fifty plus win season. Hardaway finished second in the ROY balloting to none other than Golden State’s Chris Webber. You can bet the Orlando organization didn’t bat an eyelash and looked back at their draft day trade with wide smiles as they felt they had one of the most dangerous inside-out tandems for years to come with Shaq and Penny.

During his sophomore campaign, Hardaway averaged 21 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds per game, making the All-NBA First Team, and to his day he is the only NBA player to average 20 ppg, 5 apg, and shoot 50% from the field for an entire regular season (he also did it the following season). Penny even led his team past the Jordan-less Bulls and into the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. The Magic were swept by the Rockets, but not because of Hardaway’s play. He averaged 25ppg, 8apg, and 5rpg and shot %50 for the entire series. Hardaway’s play over his first two seasons was remarkable and he was arguably the NBA’s most exciting player to suit up since the departure of Michael Jordan in 93′.

Hardaway began the 95-96 season without his sidekick O’Neal who was out due to injury. Penny had no problem shouldering the load and made the Magic title contenders without the dominating presence of Shaq. He averaged 22ppg, 7apg, and 4rpg. Once again Penny was named to the All-NBA First Team, and finished 3rd in the MVP voting. The Magic faced the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, but this time Chicago had the GOAT back. The Magic fell to Chicago, but the NBA had gotten the match-up they longed for, Jordan vs Hardaway. The two went at it all series and did not disappoint. Hardaway had proved he could play with the big boys and seemed destined to one day receive the torch from Jordan, or so we thought.

In the summer of 96′, Hardaway was a member of the USA Basketball Team that won Gold in Atlanta. Hardaway was a solid contributor on a team filled with veteran NBA stars. Then the downward spiral began for Hardaway. That same summer, Penny’s sidekick Shaquille O’Neal left for Los Angeles and the Lakers, and he was now the lone star left in Orlando. He battled through some injuries to start the 96-97′ season but willed his team into the playoffs. The Magic fell to the Heat in a five game series, but again not because Hardaway didn’t show up. He scored 42, 41, and 33 points respectively in games three through five against Miami and finished with 31ppg in the playoffs, second only to Jordan.

Early in the 97-98′ season Hardaway suffered a tragic left knee injury. The injury required surgery and his missed he majority of the season. This was unfortunately the beginning of the end for Penny. Three teams, nine years, and four knee surgeries later, Hardaway found himself out of the league. Hardaway showed flashes of the once dominant guard he was during the 2000 season, averaging 20ppg, 6apg, and 5rpg, but micro-fracture surgery prior to the 2001 season again derailed any chance of a comeback. Hardaway mulled over a comeback after retiring in 2007, but the multiple knee surgeries had sadly robbed him of all the explosiveness he once possessed and he simply could not compete at a high level anymore.

Since retiring, Hardaway has worked closely with Nike to revive his “Penny” brand. Nike has gone wild in recent years, releasing different colorways of the shoe he made famous in the mid 90’s the “Foamposite”. Clothing, and other Nike models that Penny once graced the court with, have also hit shells and turned a tremendous profit for Nike. Proving that the “Penny” persona was, and continues to be a great marketing tool for the brand. I myself would choose the Penny line over any other athletes signature line, including Jordan. Unfortunately, many of the kids that camp out in line for these kicks today, only know the off court persona of Penny and value the street “credibility” owning a pair of his kicks will bring them, and don’t know the unbelievable on court talent that was Anfernee Hardaway.

I had a hard time not becoming angry while researching and writing this piece. why you ask? Because as fans, we were robbed! The only thing worse then unused talent, is seeing a glimpse of that talent and then having it’s all taken away. That’s exactly what we got with Penny Hardaway. He took the NBA by storm, even faster then Michael or Magic did. Ironically, he seemed to be a mixture of those two all time greats. He had the size, vision, and intangibles of Magic, while possessing the scoring prowess, athletic ability, and flare for the dramatic that only Jordan had. The way LeBron is transcending the game now, is the way Hardaway was supposed to a decade prior! We got the see Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Iverson at their absolute bests, and we are currently seeing LeBron at his best, we never got to see Penny at his best, and we never will, and that will forever bug me. All we can do is look back and appreciate what he did give us, while dreaming of what could’ve been, what should’ve been.