Shaquille O'Neal is considered the most dominant player in NBA history by many fans, demolishing rivals whenever he attacked the rim and recording impressive performances during his honored career. Moreover, he had the privilege of playing alongside incredible players like Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash, and LeBron James.
Out of these players, Shaq seemed to feel a bigger affinity for Hardaway, the first superstar teammate he had in his career. Penny and Shaq took the Orlando Magic to their first NBA Finals in 1995, but unfortunately, their partnership didn't last long, with the Big Diesel leaving the franchise a couple of years after that magical run to the big series.
Still, Shaq has always shown his respect for Penny and has even claimed he's a combination of Kobe, LeBron, and Wade. If that wasn't enough, Shaq went further and said that Hardaway was Kobe Bryant before the Los Angeles Lakers icon blossomed into a global superstar.
During an interview on The Pivot Podcast, Shaq explained why he believed Penny came into the league ready, becoming what Kobe Bryant would become a couple of years later.
“I think if I/we didn’t have those egos, we could have definitely worked that out. Because I always tell people he was Kobe before Kobe. Penny Hardaway was a cold cat, he really was, he really was."
“If Penny didn’t get hurt, he would have been one of the top 3 players in the history of the game... Took Kobe two, maybe two and a half years to get to that level. Penny came in, he was already like that. First-year he came, we went to the finals. Penny was cold!... People give me flak like that and say he couldn’t have turned out, but if he wouldn’t have gotten injured, he would definitely be up there, definitely.”
Truth be told, it did seem like Penny was going to do great things in the league, but then injuries started bothering him. The Magic downplaying Shaq's demands also hurt the team's chances to return to the Finals and eventually forced the Big Diesel to look for a new challenge and join the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would become a 3-time NBA champion.
This is one of the biggest 'what-ifs' in NBA history, but Shaq seems pretty confident that things would have been great if nothing bad happened between him and Hardaway.