It is a fact that I am (and have always been) a fan of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls ever since the Michael Jordan championship era of the 1990s. And undoubtedly Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are two of my favorite NBA players of all time.

Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway was one of the most talented and versatile NBA superstars of the 1990s. Sadly, injuries would cut his effectiveness and force him to retire after 15 seasons.

But along came Penny. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Years after he played his last NBA game among a mess of injuries that robbed him of his explosive speed, I still have fond memories of the former All-Star and once highly popular player. So much so in fact, that I actually owned a pair of Nike “Penny 1” basketball shoes and even dreamed of owning an Orlando Magic jersey with his famed #1 on it.

Hardaway, a nationally recognized player during his collegiate years, was originally drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the 199 NBA Draft after they acquired the rights to the #1 overall draft pick in a trade from the Orlando Magic. However, the young star from the University of Memphis would catch the eye of the Magic and he would eventually be traded to them in exchange for forward Chris Webber (yes, another master practitioner of cager science) who was also drafted with the same class.

In his early years with Orlando, Hardaway would prove himself as a versatile player who could play three positions (small forward, shooting guard and most commonly point guard) with ease. He was also known as a player with explosive speed and athleticism, along with a decent jump shot and sound ball handling and passing skills. He would even lead the Magic past the returning Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1995 NBA Playoffs before losing to eventual champions the Houston Rockets in the finals.

After six seasons in Florida, he would eventually join the Phoenix Suns in a trade requested by point guard Jason Kidd (also with the Suns), but the dream tandem dubbed “Backcourt 2000” would never get fully geared up. Hardaway soon fell victim to leg injuries that drastically cut into his playing time. And after each successive recovery and later injury, he would gradually lose the agility and quickness that made him such an effective player. He would eventually play his injury-riddled final seasons with the New York Knicks and Miami Heat before retiring from active play.

Like Karl Malone and Elgin Baylor, his career would end due to injuries. And like the same two men, he would retire without a championship ring and fade into obscurity.

At the peak of his fame, he had his own line of basketball shoes from Nike and starred in commercials with his alter-ego “Li’l Penny”, a puppet version of himself who was loud and not shy about getting close to women. He was even touted as the successor to Los Angeles Laker great Earvin “Magic” Johnson with his flashy style of play and ability to play multiple positions.

Now, it is sad that he rarely gets a mention among his contemporaries today and only the most basketball-savvy and hardcore fans still recall his greatness.

So to Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, this humble basketball fan thanks you for giving him some of his fondest memories of basketball greatness.

*****

Originally, I hated women’s wrestling. I used to regard them as one of two things: Eye candy with minimal skills at best, or skilled warriors who were not exactly poster material.

Amy Christine Dumas, known to WWE fans as Lita, redefined women's wrestling with her mix of high-flying moves and charisma.

So it was, until a certain Amy Christine Dumas came into the picture. Or to her legion of fans, the retired World Wrestling Entertainment superstar simply known as Lita.

As a Diva, she certainly looked the part. Sexy lean frame. Sizable front and rear bumpers (pardon the man-talk). Pretty good complexion.

But then, seeing her do lucha libre moves on the opponents of her then-companion Esse Rios (with the referee’s back turned, of course) got me hooked. And when she formed Team Extreme after joining forces with the Hardy Brothers (Matt and Jeff), she would soon prove that a woman could easily be as athletic as any man while looking good doing it. Moonsaults, headscissors takedowns, hurricanranas, suicide dives, even her humble kicks and her own version of the Twist of Fate (the modified cutter popularized by Matt Hardy) were just plain artistic. She would capture the Women’s Championship many times and get involved in feuds with many notable superstars of her time.

Even after the heel turn involving her real-life relationships with Matt Hardy and Edge (real name Adam Copeland), I simply could not get enough of her. So when she retired following her loss of the Women’s Championship to Trish Stratus in 2006, I was heartbroken. Well, somewhat. For I then feared that with her departure, there would be no one to break the stereotypical WWE Diva molds of plain pretty faces and minimalist skilled athletes.

However, she did leave some very good footprints behind.

More WWE Divas have begun to focus on exhibiting solid performances in the ring while balancing it with their own brand of beauty. That is a start.

But can anyone succeed her as the Queen of Extreme? Just like the question of Michael Jordan’s “Heir Apparent”, there is no clear answer to that. And somehow, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Thank you, Ms. Dumas.

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