The locker room was full of excitement champagne was spraying everywhere. The players were overcome with joy, excitement, and laughter. They had just accomplished their goal in becoming the 2004-2005 NBA champions.
The series was a grueling seven-game series one of the best in NBA history. In fact, it out did last years finals, that was deemed a classic.
In the other locker room, there was total despair. They had just lost one of the toughest, most well-played finals in history. After hoisting the Larry O’Brian the previous season this year there would be no laughter, no champagne, and no hoisting of the trophy.
For the last three seasons, the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic have met in June to decide the World Championship of basketball. The two greatest players of their generation, and perhaps to ever play the game have battled each other for the title.
Those two players are Grant Hill and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Both players up to this point have had illustrious careers. Both winning championships, and every individual accolade a player could win.
Hill had won two MVPs he was 12x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, two finals MVPs, and now two championships.
Hardaway has been equally impressive being named to the All-NBA team 11x, 11x All-Star, one finals MVP, one MVP, and one championship.
Hill was now 2-1 over Hardaway in the finals. Hill won their first final matchup in six games. He was super dominant showcasing one of the most versatile skill sets the game has ever seen.
Penny came back the next season with a vengeance and something to prove. He was named league MVP, and this time he would get the best of his long term nemesis Hill winning his first championship and being named finals MVP.
Now Grant Hill was able to be victorious in third and final matchup between these two all-time greats.
This would be their last matchup, because in an unexpected turn of events, while on the podium accepting his finals MVP trophy Hill announced his retirement from the game.
He received a boisterous, deafening, resounding round of applause from the home crowd in Orlando. Just like that the career of one most versatile players to ever play the game was officially over.
After learning about Hill’s retirement during his post-game press conference. Hardaway was explaining how much Hill meant to the game and how he pushed him to become the best player he could possibly be, and the game will definitely miss him.
Just like that I was awaken by my front doorbell. It was the delivery man from amazon here to deliver my medium roast gourmet coffee.
I sat up stretching and rub my eyes not realizing I had dozed off on the couch. I jumped up and ran to answer the door and just like that one of the best dreams I have ever had was over.
Grant Hill and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway are two names that always come up and headline the “What If” discussion.
Both players were two of the most talented, versatile players to ever play the game. Although both players played for many years, due to injuries both players extraordinary potential and talent was never fulfilled.
Grant Hill’s Hall of Fame career spanned for 18 years. He was named to the All-NBA team five times. He was a seven time All-Star, and was named rookie of the year in 1994-1995. With his shifty right to left crossover and explosive athleticism Hill was a matchup nightmare.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s career lasted 15 seasons. He made the All-NBA team three times, and was a four time All-Star. Hardaway made one NBA Finals appearance as a member of the Orlando Magic, but lost 4-0 to the Houston Rockets.
Hill had a six prime years before suffering a devastating foot injury in his last season in Detroit. During the 1999-2000 playoffs against the Miami Heat Hill suffered an ankle injury. This injury would cause Hill to pull himself out of game 2.
According to Hill, and multiple reports at the time many people including the Pistons medical staff were questioning the validity of Hill’s injury.
When asked about the injury years later Hill was quoted as saying:
"I (had been) told everything was fine. I even found out that certain team doctors were questioning whether I was really hurt, thinking I was soft or whatever. This was after I had pulled myself from Game 2 against the Heat. At that time, when I found out I had broken my ankle, as crazy as this sounds, I was relieved. I finally had some confirmation, I finally had proof that I'm really not making it up." Kelly Dwyer yahoo sports Apr 28, 2011.
Hill is known for being a class act and will never just come out and just bash the Pistons organization, but he does believe that his injury was misdiagnosed and this gross misdiagnoses ruined his career.
Hill was one of the most sought after free agents that off season, and he would sign a seven year $93 million dollar contract with the Orlando Magic. That same summer Tracey McGrady would sign a seven year $92.8 million dollar deal.
Hill and McGrady was suppose to be one of the most dynamic formidable duo’s the league has ever seen. Unfortunately that dream would not be realized. Hill over a seven year span would only play 200 games out of 500.
While having another procedure on his ankle in the summer of 2003 Hill would develop a Staph infection that almost killed him, and caused him to miss the entire 2003-2004 season. Hill could not catch a break, but would leave the city of Orlando finally on a healthy note.
For the Magic Hill’s tenure in a Magic uniform was definitely filled with disappointment. The duo of G Hill and TMac never was, and Hill moved on to Phoenix.
While in a Suns uniform Hill would have some solid years and was a key contributor to some really good Suns teams. He would at times show flashes of that athletic brilliance that had him on the cusp to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Hill would close out his Hall of Fame career as a member of the Clippers. Hill had six peak years and avg. 21 PTS ., 7.9 REBS. 6.3 ASTS.
As far Hardaway when he was drafted he was supposed to be the perfect guard to play along side Shaq, and form a dominated duo. He possessed the height, the skills, and the athleticism that no other guard possessed playing the point guard position. The future appeared bright in Orlando, and in his second season Penny was named first team All-NBA and to the All-Star team. The Magic would make the finals and lose, but nevertheless the future seemed bright.
Many believed that the Magic’s first trip to the finals was the first of many to come. Unfortunately it was not to be Shaq would eventually leave to be come a member of the Los Angles Lakers, and by Penny’s fourth year he started experiencing knee trouble.
He would only play in 59 games, the Magic made it back to the eastern conference finals, but would be swept by the eventual champion Chicago Bulls.
The next two seasons in Orlando Hardaway would only appear in 69 games, and would join the Suns via a sign and trade in the summer of 1999.
Despite his knee troubles Hardaway would ink a six year $87.6 million dollar deal. In his second season as a member of the Suns Hardaway would miss 78 games due to his knee. He would return the following season and play 80 games, but due to the degenerate nature of the cartilage in his knee Hardaway would never be the same.
Penny would finish his career with stops in New York and Miami before retiring in 2007-2008. Unlike Hill who was able to have some longevity and be a solid contributor to a NBA team Hardway was not so lucky.
He was one of the first NBA players to have micro fracture surgery in his knee. It is a procedure that is an attempt to put cartilage back into the knee. Even with this procedure Penny was not unable to return back to the player we witnessed early on in his Magic days.
Penny would only have three prime years. Avg. 19.7 Pts., 4.6 Rebs., 6.7 Asts. during that span. Which is incredible because Hardaway is remembered in high esteem. So much so one would think his prime was longer that three years.
So although these two players would never matchup against each other in the finals like in my dream, although neither one of them won a title, or a MVP, they will still be remembered as two of the most complete players the game has ever seen. They definitely will be forever remembered as the ultimate “What If”.