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Penny Hardaway describes how Michael Jordan struggled during their first duel: "He used to like to use the glass"

Like any highly-touted college basketball prospect, Memphis’  had long dreamed about making it to the NBA. That dream came to reality in 1993 when the Golden State Warriors selected him as their 3rd overall pick and traded him to the  for Chris Webber .

Penny was elated, and he converted that energy to results. He never missed a game in his rookie season with the Magic and tallied a highly-efficient average of 16 points, 6.6 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game. Ultimately, Hardaway was an instant NBA star. However, with  out that season (due to his Minor League Baseball spell with the Birmingham Barons), Penny felt dissatisfied with his accomplishments.

 Hardaway told  in 2020.

Penny beat MJ

After having a spectacular maiden season with Orlando, Hardaway felt he was already equipped with the right tools to face Jordan. In the latter part of the 1994/95 season, Penny finally got what he was looking for. MJ made a herculean NBA return, and in his third game since his official comeback, he crossed paths with fierce young blood, who was taking the league by storm.

Penny and Jordan’s first duel took place in Chicago, inside the Bulls’ new arena, the Chicago Stadium. It was the first time MJ graced their new home, and Hardaway could tell that it got “His Airness” uneasy the entire game.

 Hardaway recounted. 

What made Hardaway realize that Jordan was trying to adjust all night was the way he shot the ball. According to Penny, 

In terms of individual performance, both players delivered as Penny racked up 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists. Jordan, on the other hand, finished with a decent 21 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and five steals. However, the Magic was just too much for the Bulls as Orlando edged Chicago 106-99.

The invincible Magic

That season, Hardaway and Jordan clashed once again. But this time, in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Having thumped Jordan and the Bulls in their first meeting, Hardaway and the Magic were brimming with confidence.

he said of the Magic’s mentality against the Bulls. 

Penny reckoned that during that playoff series,  and ultimately “wasn’t full-throttle Michael.” On top of that, nothing about Jordan’s legacy fazed Hardaway the entire series. All he knew at the time was that the Magic was the best team in the league.

 Penny stressed.

Apparently, Hardaway was right. Orlando eliminated Jordan and the Bulls in six games and advanced to the conference finals.

MJ hits back

Needless to say, everybody knew that Jordan would have his revenge. So Hardaway was well aware that beating MJ in the semis “pissed Michael off.”

The following season, Hardaway said that “the Michael Jordan we know” had returned. In the regular season, Orlando managed to beat the Bulls once again. And Penny takes pride in that as it was the year Chicago pulled off its historic 72-10 campaign. However, Jordan hit back in the playoffs and swept the Magic in the conference finals.

While he acknowledged that MJ got his rhythm back, Hardaway likes to think that injuries also played a role in their downfall.

 Hardaway assessed.

After the 1996 playoffs, Hardaway and Jordan never faced each other in the post-season again. Penny eventually succumbed to injuries, while MJ won two more titles.

Indeed, Jordan had a better career than Hardaway. But Penny sleeps soundly at night, knowing that he once got the better of the greatest of all time.

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