On the whole, we usually don’t know why certain NBA players end up with certain teams. Sometimes there’s an obvious fit — a three-point shooter joins a team desperately in need of floor spacing, for example — or a need to simply add talent to the roster. On other occasions, though, things are a bit more mysterious. Let’s consider the 1993 trade that brought Penny Hardaway to the Orlando Magic.
On paper, the prospect of having both Chris Webber and Shaquille O’Neal on the same roster seems like a tempting proposition. The Magic, however, decided to pull the trigger and swap the Michigan man for Penny Hardaway and three first-round picks. What motivated them to make that move?
It’s possible that Hardaway’s work on the set of Blue Chips made all the difference.
Penny Hardaway made an effort to impress Shaq while filming ‘Blue Chips,’ and those passes paid off
If you take Shaquille O’Neal at his word, he apparently thought that Penny Hardaway was an actor when they started filming Blue Chips. When the big man learned the guard was a highly touted prospect, though, he was impressed and decided that they needed to play together.
While there’s an element of truth to that, it’s apparently not 100% accurate.
“Shaq knew me,” Hardaway explained on an episode of All the Smoke. “When I was a sophomore in college, we played on the Olympic festival in Minnesota. That summer, the summer before I came out. But Shaq likes to, you know, he likes to make the story sound a lot better.”
Beyond that, though, the story holds pretty true to form. As the guard tells it, he made an active effort to impress the big man.
“What I did was when I got to Blue Chips, though, and started doing the movie, it was weird because I was having to try out for teams on the weekends,” Hardaway continued. “Like fly out and fly back. I’m like, ‘When I go to Orlando, I’m gonna rip this s*** up, but all summer, I’ve gotta audition with Shaq.’ So I didn’t shoot the ball. I passed that motherf***** the ball every time. I was pump-faking threes, dropping it to him with two people on him. I was giving him the ball every time just to say, ‘Hey dog, this is exactly what you’re gonna get if you bring me to your team in Orlando.”
A bit later in the conversation, Penny made it 100% clear that he was intentionally trying to get in O’Neal’s good graces.
“The audition to get there, I knew exactly what I was doing to get his big ass the ball,” the Memphis native added. “I knew he wanted the ball every time.”
Shaq and Penny got what they wanted, even if it didn’t have a fairy-tale ending
Whatever actually happened on the set of Blue Chips, it worked. When the 1993 NBA draft rolled around, the Magic selected Chris Webber with the first overall pick but promptly traded him to the Warriors. Hardaway, plus three draft backs, came back to Florida in return.
Although some Orlando fans weren’t happy with that decision, it promptly paid off. The star center formed a perfect pairing with the rookie guard, and the franchise reaped the rewards. The Magic promptly became a 50-win team and reached the postseason. Things got even better the following campaign, as the club reached the NBA Finals.
Eventually, though, things fell apart. O’Neal felt insulted by questions over his contract value and left Florida as a free agent. Hardaway appeared capable of picking up the slack, but knee problems slowed the guard’s explosive athleticism. He eventually left Orlando in 1999, joining the Phoenix Suns via a trade.
While the Magic have enjoyed other periods of success — they were an Eastern Conference force during Dwight Howard’s prime — no fan will forget the early excitement of the Shaq and Penny partnership. And to think, that dynamic duo might not have teamed up without Blue Chips.