Penny Hardaway? A Blast from the Past!

from youtube.com

from youtube.com

I just watched an awesome video!  It’s part of ESPN’s E:60 series, which I hadn’t known about until my brother sent me the link to this particular video.  It’s the story of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a former NBA All-Star going back to his hometown of Binghampton, TN, to help one of his childhood friends coach a middle school team.  The team – the Lester Middle School Lions – went on to win the state championship that year and the following year.  It was a wonderful “feel good” story about a guy I hadn’t heard much about in a loooooong time.

Penny Hardaway was probably my sister’s favorite NBA player in the early 1990s.  He played on the Orlando Magic with Shaquille O’Neal, and she was bonkers for them.  🙂  He was a great player – fun to watch, and very talented.  He also starred in these awesome Lil Penny commercials for Nike that were hilarious.  Unfortunately, he was never able to win an NBA championship, and was plagued by knee injuries the mid- to end of his career, that prevented him from reaching his full potential in the NBA.

I wasn’t sure what the video was going to be about.  I was hoping that it wouldn’t be another story about a former NBA player who lost all his money, and was pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be a powerful story about friendship, determination, perseverance and success.

Penny Hardaway and Desmond Merriweather grew up together, and played ball together on the streets of Binghampton.  They attended rival high schools, but remained friends through college.  Merriweather went to a Division II school, while Hardaway went to the Memphis State University, and then on to stardom and fame in the NBA.  The two stayed in touch off and on, mostly off, through Hardaway’s career, and then not so much after he retired.

The story picks up with Merriweather as the coach of the Lester Middle School basketball team.  He turned them around from a dismal season the year before he got there, taking them to the state championship, where they lost in the first round.  They started the season the next year, with everyone expecting great things and hoping the team would go farther, and possibly even win the title.  Then Merriweather got sick.  He was diagnosed with colon cancer.  And it was stage IV.  ESPN reported “90% of patients with colon cancer are over 50.  Dez was 36.”

Doctors gave him three to five years to live.  He underwent several surgeries, and after one, developed a severe infection that caused him to be placed into an induced coma for a couple of days.  When he woke up, he couldn’t speak – he had to write to communicate, and the first thing he wrote was 1Cent – a nickname for Penny Hardaway.  It was his way of telling people to contact Hardaway.  Hardaway responded, and accepted Dez’s request to help him coach the team.

It’s a great video, and the story – about Hardaway returning to help his old middle school and his old childhood friend – is terrific.  CNN reporter Wayne Drash, whose reporting on the story may have inspired the video, wrote a book called ‘On These Courts‘ that documents the Lions’ road to their first championship under the coaching of Hardaway and Merriweather.

In this age of spoiled, selfish athletes who abuse steroids and engage in criminal behavior, as cliché as it might sound, it’s heartwarming to hear a story like this – of the star athlete returning to his hometown and doing good!  Check it out.

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