Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway is a former professional basketball player who played for the Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and Miami Heat. After his junior year in college, he was drafted third overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors and traded to the Orlando Magic. His famous nickname comes from his grandmother, who used to call him “Pretty” for his clean-cut looks. That name eventually became “Penny”, and the rest became history. During the mid-late 90’s Penny Hardaway was regarded as one of the most popular players in the NBA behind Michael Jordan. Penny and his marketable persona was highly sought after by major brands, as Hardaway had endorsement contracts with the Coca Cola Company, Wilson, Upper Deck, and with several others. His largest and most influential endorsement contract was with, of course, Nike.
Nike instantly brought Penny onto their endorsement team. Nike quickly recognized the marketing potential with Hardaway and soon he was showcased as the premier Nike athlete behind Michael Jordan. Most notable of Nike marketing efforts was an alterior persona known as Lil’ Penny, a small puppet voiced by comedian Chris Rock. Penny Hardaway and Lil’ Penny were featured in a number of commercials with Nike, co-starring other prominent athletes and celebrities such as supermodel Tyra Banks. Often Lil’ Penny stole the show with his loud persona, but it meshed perfectly with Penny Hardaway’s laid back, modest demeanor.
Penny Hardaway’s signature line with Nike consisted of four feature designs. Each model contained a trademark design cue that revolutionized the basketball shoe design process, and the way in which each model went against the grain was reminiscent of the Air Jordan line that also brought attention upon itself for its radical roots. Each of the four designs in the Nike Penny line featured a trademark design cue. The Nike Air Max Penny was known for it’s enlarged swoosh and Air Max Unit, and for the unveiling of the Penny One-Cent logo. The Nike Air Penny 2 featured an interesting ocean current motif on the upper that caught the attention of sneaker fans across the globe. The Nike Air Penny 3 featured Foamposite formed into a tidal wave, and the Nike Air Penny 4 utilized a flat no-show upper that concealed the laces. Despite the popularity and prominence of the Nike Penny line, the most popular Penny shoe wasn’t officially part of the Penny signature line, nor was it intended for Penny.
The Nike Air Foamposite One stands as one of the most iconic, sought after, and sneaker collection validating pairs to have ever been created. The revolutionary design and manufacturing process was a true testament to Nike’s progressive thinking; the Air Foamposite One, or “Foams”, features material that actually starts out as a liquid and features no stitching on the upper. Each time the shoe is used, the Foamposite material would mold into the shape of the user’s foot, creating the ultimate comfortable basketball performance shoe. After the blue colourway of the Foams was re-released in 2007, several other never-before-seen colors were released, like the Eggplant Foamposite and the Dirty Copper.
After a devastating, career re-routing injury in 1997, Penny Hardaway was no longer the player he was. His downward spiral out of the limelight was somewhat sudden given his instant success in the league. Despite his waning relevance to the game, Penny’s fans stayed loyal and his signature sneakers with Nike still play a large part in the sneaker sub-culture. Over the last seven years, Nike re-released many of the old Penny models, which hit the right nostalgic note for many Hardaway fans. In early 2009, Nike unveiled a hybrid shoe containing many design elements of past Penny models; it was aptly named the Nike 1/2 Cent, which happens to be Lil’ Penny’s jersey number. In addition to the 1/2 Cent, Foamposite, and signature Penny line, Hardaway was also known to wear the Nike 94 Air Up in his rookie year and the Nike Zoom Flight ’96 during the 1996 Olympic Games.
Anfernee Hardaway was indeed a special player. Penny remains a popular figure in both the NBA and in the sneaker culture despite experiencing a mere four seasons as a top-level player. But in those four seasons, he managed to rise to the top and challenge Michael Jordan – and he did so by defeating Jordan in the ’95 Playoffs – while cultivating his marketability. He was truly a “one” of a kind player, one that won’t come along for a long time.