A lot has been made of the NBA’s search for “the next Michael Jordan” over the years, a sage that saw players like Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, among others, get anointed with the label. But before Jordan, there was a different “next MJ” the basketball world was looking for: The next Magic Johnson, and for a time, it seemed like Penny Hardaway would seize the crown.
If you’re under a certain age — like this author — you may not have previously been aware of this, or the comparison may simply sound blasphemous to you. But our friends over at the brand-new Secret Base put together a video for their “Overlap” series that presents a compelling reminder of how great Johnson was, and that for a while, it really looked like there was a chance Hardaway would be the next version of him:
Outside of Hardaway’s sad decline in health and circumstances that robbed him of any real chance to live up to the hype that was placed upon him, one of the things that stands out most from that video — aside from just how much fun Magic Johnson highlights are — is how tiresome it would probably be for a player to have those comparisons attached to them from such a young age. And that’s for Hardaway, who was better than you probably remember, and arguably came as close to living up to the hype as anyone before the world starting looking for the next Jordan.
That journey and the, ahem, overlap between the two players makes for a compelling story, as do some of the other little tidbits I never knew about, like Magic tampering with Shaq during his last season in the NBA, and Hardaway’s iconic Nike ads featuring him literally jumping a shark. If you’re looking to get away from our current, pandemic-fueled reality for about 20 minutes or so, it’s a fun look back at a different era and Magic’s prime, as well as a sometimes-forgotten, almost-star.
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