For a certain generation of basketball fan (read: my generation), the name "Penny Hardaway" conjures up a host of wonderful memories. When Hardaway burst onto the scene in the mid-'90s, he was a revelation: a point guard with height, athleticism, and undeniable swagger. He was our Magic Johnson, just with a talking doll.
Then a rash of injuries hit. Hardaway tried several comebacks, but he was never able to reach the same heights. It was a sad outcome for a man whose career once looked certain to end with several championships and a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Yet while the rest of the world wrote off Penny's career, the man himself still harbors dreams of playing in the NBA. From Gary Washburn in The Boston Globe:
At 39, he still feels he can contribute to a winning team. He believes he has enough skills left to come off the bench for spurts and enough experience to serve as a leader.
"It's not about money,'' he said. "I saved my money, have all the money that I want. God has blessed me with that. It's really just the love of the game.'' [...]
After a short stint with the Heat in 2006, Hardaway has waited for a call from an NBA team. He is relegated to sitting courtside at Grizzlies games, longing for an opportunity to be an old man on a championship-caliber roster, but knowing it's highly unlikely.
"I still love the game and I feel like I deserve that chance, but at 39, everybody's looking at the age,'' he said. "They're not looking at it as if I can still play.
Oh boy, that's not a pretty sight. Hardaway is a legend in his hometown, but you never want to think about someone watching Mike Conley(notes) and pining for his glory days. Except for Greg Oden(notes), that is.
This is sad, yes, but I also don't think we have much room to criticize Hardaway for wanting another taste of NBA life. Here's a man whose prime years were stolen from him by injury, who expected better and got dealt a career of disappointment and aborted comebacks.
He still has a legacy -- no one will forget his first few years in Orlando. But that's precisely the point: It's not as if playing at the end of the bench for a year or two will make everyone overlook what made him such an incandescent talent in the first place. That era belongs to everyone and isn't going anywhere.
So if Penny wants to mount another comeback, he should mount another comeback. Let's not turn this into a morality contest -- he's just a former star who thinks he can still contribute to an NBA team. History will still remember him for his first years, not his last few. In our memories, he'll always be the player you see in the image above, ready to take the NBA by storm. Let the man who once brought us so much joy have some fun of his own.
- Penny Hardaway