Penny Hardaway left the Orlando Magic under less-than-ideal circumstances, but on Friday, he and the organization put that bit of history behind them: the Magic honored Hardaway as part of their ongoing series of Legends Nights during their 25th anniversary season. The Magic's seventh all-time leading scorer even suggested that he could work more closely with the team in the future.
"Coming back now does show that we're trying to mend some of the fences," Hardaway said before Friday's tipoff. "It wasn't really mending anything, but just coming back and just being involved... seeing Bo [Outlaw], seeing Nick [Anderson], and seeing some of the teammates, I think hopefully I'll be able to come around more and be more involved with the Magic."
Hardaway said he had "mixed" feelings about returning to Orlando for Friday's ceremony because "I hadn't been back in so long." To the best of his recollection, the last time he attended a Magic game was as a player with the Miami Heat in the 2007/08 season. But once he joined Orlando CEO Alex Martins at center court between the first and second quarters Friday, the fans' loud, standing ovation must have allayed any fears he might have had about a potentially icy reception.
Since retiring after that 16-game Miami stint--during which period he reunited with Shaquille O'Neal, his former Magic co-star--Hardaway has taken to coaching middle schoolers in his "old neighborhood" in Memphis, hoping to serve as a positive influence in the community.
"There's not a lot of positive going on in the neighborhood," he said. "You have to stay focused or you'll go down the wrong road pretty quickly."
The best part of coaching, according to Hardaway, is "to be there to try to help them live through me, and just push them to dream higher than what they were dreaming before they got there."
Despite his incredible skills and high basketball IQ, he never envisioned that he'd ever embark on a coaching career, but the tone in his voice as he spoke about his newest endeavor indicated how rewarding he finds coaching.
Now that he's "been bitten by the bug," Hardaway says he'd like to "gradually" progress through the coaching ranks by taking jobs at the high school and collegiate levels. On several occasions, Memphis Tigers coach Josh Pastner has tried recruiting Hardaway to join his staff, but he's comfortable working with the younger group of kids for the moment.
Regardless of where coaching takes Hardaway, it's clear that he'll always have a home in Orlando.
"This is where my career was built," he said, "and really ends."