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Before the Chicago Bulls won three NBA titles in a row from 1996-98, they lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Penny Hardaway is proud to be a part of the last team to win a playoff series against the Bulls before Michael Jordan retired in 1998.
He spoke about the 1995 playoffs Thursday on The Jump:
“It gives me huge bragging rights because no one else was able to accomplish that,” Hardaway said. “We obviously caught Michael at a great time, just coming back from baseball. But at the end of the day we do have those bragging rights to say we were the last team—or only team in that span—to have beaten that great team.”
Chicago won six titles in a span of eight years with Jordan, Scottie Pippen and head coach Phil Jackson. One of the two years without a championship came in 1993-94 when Jordan missed the whole season while playing minor league baseball. The superstar returned late in the 1994-95 season, but he couldn’t lead his squad to another title.
Orlando won the series in six games behind Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and former Bull Horace Grant.
The Magic reached the NBA finals that season before getting swept by the Houston Rockets. It was one of two trips to the finals in franchise history for an organization that has never won a title.
Though the playoff loss was just one slight against Jordan during an incredible Hall of Fame career, he used it as motivation to work as hard as ever in the ensuing offseason, which was highlighted in The Last Dance.
“I think it was without question the biggest motivation coming that following season,” then-Magic coach Brian Hill said, per Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. “Michael Jordan played the whole season with an unbelievable will to win. There were eight to 10 games where he basically willed his teammates into winning games.”
The 1995-96 Bulls went 72-10 on their way to winning an NBA title, including a sweep of the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Still, Hardaway and Orlando can maintain bragging rights of defeating one of the best dynasties in basketball history.