Shaq & Penny
This photo makes me feel so nostalgic.
I remember growing up in Orlando and watching these two dudes play for the first time and it was like they single-handedly revitalized the NBA. It’s as if the 1995 Orlando Magic was the NBA equivalent of The Velvet Underground.
One could say Shaq was Andy Warhol; ubiquitous, attention-seeking, self-promoter, and often seen as the ringleader. Which makes Penny Hardaway Lou Reed. Ever-so-cool, effortless, knows his fundamentals yet chooses to break the mold. (You could even say Horace Grant was the John Cale of the group; the classically-trained distinguished veteran…but I digress.)
As Brian Eno once said of the Velvets, “although [they] didn’t sell many albums, everyone who bought one went on to form a band”. This saying rings true of the ‘95 Magic team who went on to the NBA Finals (beating a Jordan comeback Bulls at that), then ultimately losing to the veteran Houston Rockets. They might not have won the Larry O’Brien trophy, but this team has and still continues to influence other teams and players in the league.
It has been cited that LeBron’s favorite player was indeed Penny Hardaway, as was Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady (the latter two sharing the same fate due to injuries). And Shaq, much like Warhol, still continues to influence and entertain. The obvious heir to his thrown—a goofy young Center who goes by the nickname Superman complete with free-throw problems and plays for the Orlando Magic—is none other than Dwight Howard.
1995 also marks the year when Kevin Garnett, a highschooler, was drafted and from that point on, the NBA continued to get younger and younger and (thanks to Allen Iverson) develop some more street-cred. Not that Shaq and Penny are the direct source of this, but they were definitely the catalyst.
As the Lakers had Magic and Kareem, the Bulls Pippen and Jordan, the Jazz Stockton and Malone, Seattle’s finest in Payton and Kemp, and the Warriors RUN-TMC, etc. etc. The definitive Magic team will always be the ‘95 roster lead by these two.