Penny Hardaway’s Shoes Revitalized NBA Style in the ’90s

In the early ’90s, the Orlando Magic made a name for themselves. Shaquille O’Neal had just burst onto the scene for the Magic. Although Shaq brought fame to the young expansion team, they needed a shooter and skilled ball-handler at point guard to be taken seriously. Enter Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a player known as much for his style, grace, and cultural influence off the court as he was for his basketball skills.

Style and swag: Who is Penny Hardaway?

Hardaway came on the scene during a pivotal time in the franchise’s history. The Magic joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1989, so when Hardaway was drafted, they were still building a functional roster. The 6-foot-7 athlete, exceptionally tall for a point guard, had a unique and creative style on the court. He was also surprisingly lean.

Hardaway’s size and agility allowed him to navigate the paint, weaving stylishly in between multiple defenders to sink improbable layups and dunks. His style and swag extended beyond the court, too. Hardaway was the No. 3 draft pick in 1993, when the Golden State Warriors chose him.

Then, O’Neal met him on the set of the movie Blue Chips. Shaq was so impressed with the young University of Memphis player that he convinced the Magic to trade three future first-round draft picks and Chris Weber — the No. 1 pick they’d selected — for Hardaway. An unprecedented move in terms of the NBA draft, this launched the shy, team-oriented Hardaway into the spotlight. And it netted him a Nike contract in the process.    

Hardaway’s signature shoes

The commercials for Hardaway’s signature line of shoes were inescapable in the mid-’90s. They featured a small, puppet version of the NBA player called “Little Penny,” voiced by Chris Rock. Like the Budweiser frogs and the Geico caveman, Little Penny was everywhere, selling Hardaway’s signature line of Nikes

The very first Hardaway-branded sneaker was the 1995 Air Max Penny, also known as the “Penny 1.” The Air Max Penny was the second most popular Nike basketball shoe after the famous Air Jordan line

This line was considered a staple basketball shoe in the ’90s, reflecting the way the game was played in that era. Perhaps even better known than the Penny 1’s were Hardaway’s 1997 shoe, the Foamposite 1. 

The Foamposite line became one of the most popular styles in the late ’90s, and the style is still popular today.

This particular look, with black stripes through the blue upper, is known as the “Sharpie Foamposite” because Hardaway had to manually draw black stripes with a marker on the first pair he received. Why? The NBA’s rules at the time stated that a player’s shoes had to match his uniform. 

Hardaway’s legacy

Chicago Bulls guard Ron Harper (L) regains control of the ball after getting knocked to the floor by Orlando Magic guard Anfernee Hardaway
Bulls guard Ron Harper tries to get the ball from Magic guard Penny Hardaway | BRIAN BAHR/AFP via Getty Images

Hardaway spent six years with the Magic posting incredible numbers before Orlando traded him to the Phoenix Suns. He eventually moved to the New York Knicks, spent one season with the Heat, and finally returned to Orlando. Penny had mild success with every team, but chronic knee problems eventually forced him to retire.

In 2015, the University of Memphis, Hardaway’s alma mater, hired him to coach the school’s basketball team. So far, he’s experienced a high level of success securing commitments from top-level high school players from all over the country.

Hardaway’s days driving the lane might be over, but he stays busy passing on his skills to younger, NBA-bound players. Meanwhile, the popularity of his signature shoe lines continues, cementing his professional legacy.