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Penny Is Still A Factor In The Sneaker Game

Ain't a damn thing changed.

By Sandy Dover November 30, 2012, 01:22 PM EST

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Penny Hardaway hasn’t played in five years. He’s been long removed from the current NBA zeitgeist professionally, and may be the biggest “coulda woulda shoulda” case since Gale Sayers. He’s the primary poster child for microfracture knee surgery, and for those who didn’t get to see him in his prime, he’s noteworthy in this era, for attempting to use the Jedi Mind Trick to get Pat Riley to entertain signing him with The Heatles.

So how does Hardaway still have the most exclusive basketball shoes on the market?

On November 28, the former Orlando Magic superstar debuted his signature Nike Air Flight One/Air Penny/Air Foamposite One/Zoom Rookie collection via Instagram, and sneakerheads ‘round the world went nuts. Particularly with his Air Foamposite One series (his most popular model to date), Penny changed the game of footwear style.

Debuted in the 1997 NCAA championship game by then-Arizona point guard Mike Bibby, the Air Foamposite One became something like a phenomenon. It was alien, it was expensive, it was exclusive, and it has remained so popular, that the DMV is known solely as an area of the country that the Foamposite series calls home.

Somewhat like how Michael Jordan never wore the Air Jordan IX in its debut season, the Air Foamposite One was rarely seen on Penny’s feet.  On top of that, the Air Foamposite One wasn’t a part of the canonized Air Penny signature line – it was a one-off sneaker and the first Nike signature shoe that initially hit $200 (it was later reduced to $180). And even though No. 1 went on to play with the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and Heat, he never again reached the level of stardom that he obtained in his first three NBA seasons.

However, Hardaway’s shoes transcended his on-court legacy.

The beauty of the Penny line is that it was often the best of the best from Nike. It was the only true signature line that rivaled the Air Jordan series, not only in its appearance – which was funky and definitively hip hop in its design – but also in its technology. And as each year comes with new retro releases from Nike’s Sportswear division, the Penny series keeps growing and reinventing itself, with the man himself getting two brand new signature sneakers in the Zoom Rookie in 2011 and Air Penny V in 2012, even though his last signature shoe was produced circa 1999, a whopping 13 year gap.

Aside from the sadness (madness) of violence that was directly associated with the “Galaxy” release of his Air Foamposite One in early 2012, Hardaway is known best for his feet.

Forget being the first superstar big point guard since Magic Johnson, his short-lived partnership with Shaquille O’Neal, or even his Chris Rock-Lil Penny Nike commercials – the man his grandma misnamed as Anfernee (for “Anthony”) is an icon for sports footwear.

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Sandy Dover is a contributor to The Shadow League, and is a veteran feature columnist for Yahoo!, SLAM Magazine, YES Network's The Brooklyn Game and STACK Media, among other major publications. You can follow him at @San_Dova at Twitter and also find him on the web at about.me/SandyDover.

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