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Penny Hardaway: Foamtown Hero

The author up close and personal with his idol.

I remember it as if it was yesterday. 1997. NBA Playoffs. Best of 5. It’s the Florida duel. The Orlando Magic take on the Miami Heat in the first round. I’m 10 years old. I’m wearing my Penny jersey with the shoes to match, the Nike Air Penny II. There he is, my hero, Anfernee ”Penny“ Hardaway. He is putting on a show, carrying his team on his shoulders. His Magic, the number 7 seed in the East, are the underdog against a superior Heat team which finished the regular season with 60-plus wins. But Penny steps out on the court and plays his heart out.

The Magic drop Games 1 and 2 in Miami with two miserable performances against a stifling Heat defense. After a disappointing 13 of a team total 64 points in Game 1, Penny gets back to his normal self with a solid 26 points in Game 2, but the 0-2 deficit is inevitable. The next two games would be played in Orlando…

Penny had to take a black marker to the shoe’s deep ridges to help ensure they met league rules… The Foams were too blue!

Welcome to Mickey Mouse Town! In Games 3 and 4 Penny plays like a million bucks. The Heat D cannot stop him. He goes off for a career-high tying 42 in Game 3 and drags the Magic to a hard-earned victory. My hero has finally arrived and is playing like the superstar he is! Career High! 42! I’m ecstatic. The next game? 41 and another W! Penny cannot be stopped! And all this as the lone star for Orlando against a star-studded Heat squad led by Alonzo Mourning, indubitably one of the best defenders in history (number 11 on the NBA’s all time block list), and Tim Hardaway in his prime at Point Guard. Kudos!

Back to Miami… Game 5. Elimination time. The season is on the line. My 10 year old self is anxious. Which Penny will show up? Will the Magic finally help their superstar? The game starts and once again it’s defense first. After a closely contested first quarter, the Magic once again trail at the half. And things get worse. The Heat come out of the break firing on all cylinders and make it 69-53 after three quarters. The lead seems insurmountable and indeed it proves to be too much for the Magic. Season over. My hero is down and out. Although he once again did all he could to keep his team’s season alive, scoring 33 points and adding 10 rebounds and 6 assists, he did not succeed.

Here I am. Devastated. At least I can be proud of my idol. He was the shining star of an overchallenged Magic team. I’m still wearing his jersey and his shoes… but wait: WHAT ARE THOSE?!

Those are the Nike Air Foamposite One in Dark Neon Royal! Never in my life have I seen shoes like these. It is love at first sight. (Bear in mind that I’m watching the games on an old tube TV —> it’s 1997!) All I can see is the beautiful futuristic shape, the metallic blue and that Penny wears them. I am mesmerized. I gotta have ’em! Unfortunately my mom wouldn’t buy her 10 year old son a pair of blue basketball shoes for the reasonable price of what were then 400 German Marks or 170$ in the States respectively, and inexplicably so… But thank God I make my own money now and I will definitely cop a pair this Thursday when the Nike Air Foamposite One XX releases to celebrate the shoe’s 20 year anniversary!

A shoe like none other – The Nike Air Foamposite One

Nike has always been top notch when it comes to basketball shoes. Their signature lines for Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Penny Hardaway and above all Michael Jordan are producing huge sales up until this day. Their designs, especially in the mid to late 1980s, have been unique and timeless in equal measure. However, the period of time which sticks out the most to me when it comes to Nike designs, are the mid to late 1990s. Nike came out with some of my absolute favorite shoes of all time during these years, the Air Max 95, the Jordan XI and the Jordan XII to name a few. And then Eric Avar designed THE shoe, the Nike Air Foamposite One.

The Foams were so different from any other shoe, it seemed like they came straight from the future. They simply blew people’s minds, including mine. Never has anybody seen a shoe like this before, with its molded upper and metallic blue color. The shape and the materials were in perfect harmony. The Nike Air Foamposite One is so unique, legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield wishes he designed it.

However, Eric Avar was the lead designer of what was then an experimental project in cooperation with the Advanced Product Engineering group. Avar’s idea behind the design was unlike normal shoe designs as he explains: ”There was this notion of what if you literally just dipped your foot in this liquid bath of material and it just sucked around your foot? And what if you could go play basketball in that? That was the inspiration and I tried hard to get people to see that.“

And after 3 or 4 years of designing, testing and trying to figure out how to bring this vision to life, people could finally see it. A shoe that looks like liquid metal. The most groundbreaking design in basketball shoe history. And who could represent this otherworldly shoe better than Penny Hardaway, a 6-foot-7 Point Guard who had just reached his first NBA Finals and won Olympic Gold with Team USA in Atlanta? It was a match made in heaven! As Eric Avar recalls the moment when Penny first saw an early Foamposite sample, ”He just stopped me right there, and said ’That’s it. I want that to be my next shoe.’” The rest is history…

As we celebrate the heralded design’s 20th anniversary, its clear the Air Foamposite One was meant to be. The game-changing silhouette paved the way for an entire franchise of innovative footwear, headlined Penny’s signature line in the eyes of many, stretched the thinking behind footwear design forever, and most importantly, made an impact that is still being felt far past the hardwood today.

Check out the Nike Air Foamposite One XX below and make sure you get your pair on Thursday, January 26 at 9:00am CET here!


About the author

Philip is a 2-time KICKZ Bowling Champ who manages the Instagram account. He is a tatted up sneakerhead with an immeasurable amount of useless knowledge inside his humongous brain. Being a fan of Penny Hardaway in his childhood, he tried to model his game after the lengthy Orlando point guard and became a solid all around weapon on offense with a soft touch and unlimited range. Nowadays he walks around in his SB Nikes, Vans and Retro Basketball Shoes and eats like a vacuum cleaner. LeBron = GOAT.

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