A Penny is worth more than a billion dollars
“In this game. The Last game of the year. No more practice. No more season. We want to go out on top. We got to leave it all out on the line! Come on!” Penny Hardaway, who turned 43 today, was motivating his middle school basketball team before their state championship game in 2012. Hardaway, an NBA star for 16 years, earned millions from the league. Why coach a middle school team?
Hardaway grew up in the Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee. Describing his neighborhood, Penny explained, “Coming from our neighborhood, we call it a bowl. Most guys get stuck there. You make it to the top and slide right back down.” Growing up, he would always play basketball with his best friend Desmond Merriweather. The friends attended rival high schools; both were stars on their teams. Both moved on to the college level, where Penny became an All American. Naturally, he was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft in 1993 by the Golden State Warriors. Proving to be worth the excitement, Hardaway quickly rose up the ranks in the league. Unfortunately, a wrench was thrown into his career in 1997 when a routine knee surgery developed into chronic knee problems, leading to more surgeries for the rest of his career. Eventually, Hardaway retired in 2007, never winning an NBA championship.
Penny’s old friend, Merriweather, was coaching the Lester Middle School basketball team in Memphis, Tennessee at the time. But in 2009, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, given 3-5 more years to live. Developing an infection that left him hospitalized, he contacted Penny. At the visit, Hardaway agreed to coach Merriweather’s team until his release from the hospital. Even after his release, Merriweather couldn’t function efficient enough to coach the team. So Penny agreed to take over as the head coach, and by 2011, led his team to the State Finals, winning the championship! And during the following year, they won the state title again! Merriweather got to see both championships in person – he too was on the sideline aiding Penny and the team to victory. When asked how he felt about winning, Penny said, “I was very happy because this is giving him [Merriweather] some peace and happiness in a battle that you struggle with. He was always a fighter. He’s just not going to give.” And when talking to his team about Penny, Merriweather explains his compassion for people, “When you think of Binghampton, you got to think of this man. He stayed in Binghamton to be with you. That’s how much he loves you all.”