Four-time NBA all-star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway still gets recognized by strangers, even though he retired in 2008.
Basketball fans, and shoe connoisseurs, remember Hardaway as the star of a series of Nike commercials featuring “Lil’ Penny,” a miniature version of Hardaway voiced by comedian and actor Chris Rock.
“They recognize me all the time, because thank God I was one of the memorable faces in the league, and I played good basketball where a lot of people could see me with Orlando being one of the top teams at the time being on TV a lot,” Hardaway said in an interview at Hammons Student Center in Springfield. “They’re always talking about Lil’ Penny and giving me the Lil’ Penny lines.”
The Golden State Warriors selected Hardaway with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. He was traded to the Orlando Magic for No. 1 overall pick Chris Webber before either played a game for the team that drafted them.
Hardaway scored an average above 20 points per game for three consecutive seasons and finished a 14-year NBA career with a 15.7 scoring average.
He also acted alongside Nick Nolte and fellow Orlando Magic star Shaquille O’Neal in the 1994 movie “Blue Chips.”
“Acting is my dream. If I wouldn’t have made it in basketball, I definitely would have moved to California and tried to act. I love acting, I love TV,” Hardaway said. “It was a blessing for me to be in the movie, ‘Blue Chips’ and then to take that into the ‘Lil’ Penny’ commercials with Nike.”
High school basketball fans in Memphis refer to Memphis East senior guard Jayden Hardaway as “Lil’ Penny,” which is something Penny Hardaway said his son just has to deal with.
Anfernee Hardaway is the volunteer coach of the Mustangs, who are competing at JQH Arena in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
“I’m really enjoying coaching a high school. It came by coincidence, a buddy of mine introduced me to it,” Hardaway said. “I still love the game so much, and I love teaching at the grass-roots level.”
Memphis East won the 2016 Division I AAA state championship led by NCAA Division I basketball recruits T.J. Moss and Alex Lomax.
A nearby Memphis team’s runner-up finish in Springfield in 2014 helped convince Hardaway to accept the Mustangs’ invitation to this year’s tournament.
“White Station High School came here a few years ago, which is a really good team — a lot of great talent. We heard that the competition here was very stiff, so it was an easy decision for us to want to come down here and be a part of it,” Hardaway said.
Hardaway stayed connected to his birthplace throughout his NBA career. He played one season for University of Memphis before entering the 1993 draft.
“Memphis is a basketball town, and that’s home, so I would go back home every summer and I stayed in touch with all of my friends and family in the city and what was going on,” Hardaway said.
The transition from player to coach has been interesting for Hardaway.
“I’m not in control of the game or the outcome. I can coach, and I can prepare, but I can’t play the game, so it’s different. When I played, I had the opportunity to make an impact on the game right away, so coaching is a little different,” Hardaway said.
Springfield fans who watch Memphis East play at JQH Arena can expect to see the influence of NBA coaches Larry Brown, Chuck Daly and Lenny Wilkins on display, along with a large dose of what made Hardaway so successful.
“Those guys are some of the winningest coaches in the NBA, but I basically just use my basketball style as how I coach,” Hardaway said.