The Story of Penny Hardaway - As Told by Pusha-T
Earlier today I was riding in my car listening to Pusha- T’s new album, Daytona. The first song on the album is a banger entitled “If You Know, You Know.” It’s probably my favorite song on the album because its classic King Push. The entire song is about Pusha using lingo and describing experiences that only people associated with the drug trade around a certain time can understand.That’s the part of the concept that speaks to me. Here’s a guy rapping about something that he’s truly experienced. It’s a song about real life. It’s a song about struggle. It’s a song about credibility.
When it comes to the City of Memphis and Tiger Basketball, no one has more credibility than Penny Hardaway.Ultimately, credibility is the reason Hardaway landed the head coaching job. What former coach, Tubby Smith, found out is that it’s not enough to have mastered the X’s and O’s in this city. Memphians need someone who gets us. We need someone who will represent us. Penny fits that description better than anyone else could. He represented us when he chose to play for the Tigers. He continued to represent us throughout his pro career. And now, all these years later, he’s choosing to represent us again. What’s more is that through it all, Hardaway hasn’t lost his relatability.
In this city, relatability can take you a long way. One of the many reasons Hardaway can relate to so many Memphis kids; and honestly one of the reasons people believe he will be such an effective recruiter is because he can relate to them. He may be a millionaire now, but he was born and raised in Binghampton. He walked the same streets, hooped on the same courts, and met the same challenges that they are facing right now. Hardaway isn’t some out of touch out of towner. He knows what Memphis is about. He gets that you can’t be soft here. He knows the people here are quick to see BS. And most importantly, he knows that we love our basketball. If you know, you know.
His basketball experience also lends itself to Penny’s credibility. He’s played in the league that every high school player he sits down to recruit wants to play in. He held his own against Jordan. He played beside Shaq. He was the precursor to Kobe. Lebron grew up mimicking him. Imagine being a 17-year-oldkid being recruited by the man whose logo is on the pairs of Nike shoes in your closet. Heck, imagine being a parent of a kid who is being recruited by the guy you watched carry the Orlando Magic to their first successful stint. Like Pusha- T, Penny Hardaway can offer insight into things that only experience can give. If you know, you know.
Then there’s his “swag.” Something you can only get from a place like Memphis. If you scroll through his Instagram profile, you’ll catch Hardaway routinely draped in Gucci. If in a gym, he’s probably sporting some of the most stylish and exclusive Nike sneakers. And, of course, there is the famous flat brimmed hat. Entire radio segments were done on that hat. And don’t think it’s a mistake. Every wardrobe selection is intentional. Because Penny knows what every Memphis guy knows: Your clothes can speak volumes about you. So, while every other college basketball coach looks out of touch, Penny can show kids he’s different without speaking one word. If you know, you know.
Penny’s credibility doesn’t just appeal to recruits. It also reaches the fanbase. We all can’t be 6’7. None of us know what it feels like to be an All American, much less NBA All-Stars. Not every Memphian can afford to dress in Gucci daily. But we all share that love for the Tigers. Like many of us, Penny Hardaway came up watching the Tigers. I’m sure as a kid, he took his fair share of trips down to the Midsouth Coliseumto watch the blue and grey. And I can almost imagine Penny having that same gleam in his eye for the then Memphis State program that every proud Memphian has at one point. That’s the thread that ties us together. That’s what makes Penny one of us. It’s what makes him relatable. Pusha-T says “If you know, you know.” Its apparent Penny knows.