Sports Legend Revealed: Was Penny Hardaway named Anfernee by mistake?
BASKETBALL LEGEND: Anfernee Hardaway was named "Anfernee" by mistake.
Drafted third overall in the 1993 NBA Draft, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway came over to the Orlando Magic in a blockbuster draft day trade where the Magic traded the #1 overall pick, Chris Webber, to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the Warriors' first round pick (Hardaway) and three future first round picks. Teaming up with 1992-93 Rookie of the Year, center Shaquille O'Neal, Hardaway helped to make the Orlando Magic one of the most promising young teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
In 1995, Hardaway made the first of four straight All-Star Game appearances. In addition, in 1995 and 1996, Hardaway was named first team All-NBA. He was named to the third team, All-NBA in 1997, the first season he played without Shaquille O'Neal (who had left the Magic as a free agent to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers). Hardaway's career was forever altered in the 1997-98 NBA season when he suffered an awful knee injury. After recovering from the knee injury, Hardaway played well in the 1999 strike-shortened season and then forced the Magic to trade him to the Phoenix Suns, where he would play in the backcourt with Jason Kidd. However, in the 2000-01 season Hardaway suffered a second knee injury that effectively robbed him of most of the skills that had made him an All-Star level player. He played another six seasons in the league, but he was essentially a bench player for most of them (barely even that towards the end of his career).
Besides his stellar play early in his career and a series of popular Nike commercials (with comedian Chris Rock voicing a puppet called "Lil' Penny"), Hardaway is perhaps best known for his unusual first name. The origins of the name have become clouded over the years and today it appears that the general consensus is that his name was the result of a mistake on the part of his mother.
This, however, is not the case.
Basically what people seem to believe is that Hardaway's mother made a mistake and the doctor did not correct her. You see this repeated in a number of places, including a MySpace page for Anfernee Hardaway (written as though it is BY Hardaway himself, but it's pretty clearly a fan page):
My name is Anfernee Hardaway. I was born on July 18, 1972, in Memphis Tennessee. My name is Anfernee because when I was born, my mother couldn't pronounce "Anthony," so when the doctor asked her what my name was, she answered "Anfernee."
In fact, that seems to be the same basic paragraph that many sites repeat about Hardaway:
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was born July 18, 1972 in Memphis, Tennessee. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway got the name Anfernee because his mom couldn’t say Anthony and the doctor wrote down Anfernee when he asked Anfernee’s mother her baby’s name.
First off, Hardaway was born in 1971, not 1972. Secondly, Hardaway's mother, Fae Hardaway (now I believe she's Fae Patterson), has always been extremely upfront about her son's name. The late, great Ralph Wiley, did a feature on Hardaway in 1991 for Sports Illustrated. This was well before Hardaway was the famous player he became now. Heck, he had not yet even played for Memphis State due to problems with his ACT scores (in fact, that was what the article was about). Wiley asked Fae about the name:
When I was in school at Lester High, there had been a boy named Anfernee. I always thought it was such a beautiful name. People think I don't know how to spell Anthony.
The same explanation was later re-told in 1996 for a Vibe profile on Hardaway (by now one of the most famous players in America) by Kevin Powell.
I did some checking and I found, just in Memphis ALONE, two men named Anfernee who would have been teenagers or older in 1970.
So when you add together Fae Hardaway's explicit recollection, the fact that there WERE people named Anfernee around at the time and the fact that the various explanations for the mistake doesn't even particularly make sense (she couldn't say Anthony? What the heck?) and I am very confident in saying that this legend is false. Going past that, it is also a pretty disappointing legend. A name sounds weird? The mother must be a moron who couldn't spell Anthony! Sheesh.
Thanks to Ralph Wiley and Kevin Powell for their respective pieces and thanks to Fae Patterson for giving us the answer.
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Photo: Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. Credit: Associated Press.