Penny Hardaway On Beating Michael Jordan In 1995: "He Wasn’t The MJ He Was"

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Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Back in 1995, a young Orlando Magic team was trying to win it all in the NBA just a couple of seasons after its foundation. The team led by Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway was ready to make a statement in the 1995 playoff, which they did. Penny and Shaq led their team to the Finals, even beating the mystic Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan in the second round of the postseason.

They beat the Bulls in six games, advancing to the ECF and then the NBA Finals, where the Houston Rockets beat them. That elimination marked a turning point for the Chicago Bulls and Jordan, and Hardaway knew very well that they weren't facing the same Jordan that won three straight NBA titles. Hardaway recently talked about this, revealing that the Jordan that we all knew in prior years had nothing to do with the one that played against the Magic that year. Talking with Etan Thomas, Penny said (36:16 mark):

“I am going to say this because me and MJ are very close. He was not the Michael Jordan from the first three championships, as far as in rhythm.

“He wasn’t real rusty because it was the end of the season. He was rusty when he first came back. But by the time they played us in the playoffs, he had kind of hit his groove a lot better than what he was when he had first come back.”

“He wasn’t the MJ he was even the following year in 96, where he was driven. Maybe he thought it was going to be the same easiness that he had left the league with … He ran into a group of young bucks that was ready and maybe he just underestimated how good we were because he had never played against us.”

As we learned watching The Last Dance, MJ didn't enjoy that loss and he returned stronger the next season, recording the highest winning season for a team, winning his fourth NBA championship and taking revenge on Penny and his Magic. Jordan once again took things personally and the Magic paid the price.