The Los Angeles Lakers have a rich history on the hardwood; 30 Finals appearances, 14 Championships, umpteen All-Stars and Hall of Famers. On the other side of the court, little is known about the youthful Orlando Magic. The Orlando Magic were one of four expansion teams created prior to the 1989 season which also included the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, and Minnesota Timberwolves. Great moments in early Magic history include former Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles dishing out 30 assists in a 155-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Orlando never won more than 31 games in a season until 1992, when the Magic were awarded the first pick in the draft and pounced on LSU center Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal was the biggest draft day prize since Patrick Ewing was selected by the Knicks in 1984. He made an immediate impact on the team; the Magic resurrected themselves and in the midst of a 20 win turnaround, O’Neal became the first rookie to start in an All-Star Game since Michael Jordan. Despite all the Shaqtastic fanfare, the Magic missed the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to the Indiana Pacers.
The Magic bankrolled more good fortune in 1993 when, despite having a just single ball in the lottery machine, they won the first pick in the draft for the second consecutive year. The Magic selected Michigan Wolverine and Fab-Five member Chris Webber. Webber was immediately traded to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Penny Hardaway, the third overall pick, and three future first-round selections. Despite the “what if” premise of the Webber trade, the Magic flourished behind the play of O’Neal and Hardaway, winning 50 games and making the team’s first playoff appearance as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Hardaway mania couldn’t suppress the overachieving Indiana Pacers as they swept the Magic 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs.
O’Neal and Hardaway again led the Magic to a 57-25 record in 1995 as the Magic advanced to their first NBA Finals. Title dreams were dashed once more as the Magic fell victim to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in a 4-0 Houston sweep. Dealing a further blow to the Magic following two disappointing playoff performances, Shaquille O’Neal dipped into the waters of free-agency following the 1996 season and was immediately signed by the L.A Lakers.
Former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly joined the Magic in 1997 and led the team to a 41-41 record, missing the playoffs. Hardaway sat out the majority of the season. Julius Erving even joined the team as an executive but the Magic were encapsulated in an agonizing dry spell that would last for several years until the next savior surfaced.
With oodles of salary cap space the Magic brain trust plundered the NBA’s free agent stronghold prior to the 2000-2001 season. Hoping to make a triple throw down pie in the sky acquisition of Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, and Tracy McGrady, the Magic settled for the acquisitions of Hill and McGrady. McGrady blossomed into a legitimate superstar and a scoring maestro during his first two seasons with the Magic. He was All-NBA in 2001, 2002, and 2003. The Magic were eliminated from the playoffs during all three seasons, losing 3-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2001 and 3-1 to Baron Davis and the Charlotte Hornets in 2002. The Magic famously imploded after building a 3-0 lead against the Detroit Pistons in 2003, only to lose 4-3 after McGrady all but guaranteed victory.
Following such an ungainly egress from the playoffs in 2003, the Magic were equally disappointing in 2004. Tracy McGrady led the league in scoring at 28.0 ppg, but the Magic finished with the NBA’s worst record, 21-61. Coach Doc Rivers was canned and McGrady forced a trade to Houston after admitting he failed to give 100% during the 2003-2004 season.
When some NBA teams ramble about rebuilding they refer casually to the addition of a few players and the departure of a few others. When the Orlando Magic talked about rebuilding following the 03-04 season, they meant a total overhaul of the active roster. 75% of the roster was remade, and the Magic acquired seven players through trades and the draft. Most notable was the signing of free agent Hedo Turkoglu and the selection of athletic wunderkind and future Center of the Century Dwight Howard and point guard Jameer Nelson in the draft.
The Magic returned to the playoffs in 2007 but were swept in the first round by the Detroit Pistons. Brian Hill, the same coach who, with Shaq and Penny Hardaway took the Magic to the NBA Finals, was fired following the loss. In a zany three day ordeal Florida gator Billy Donovan was hired to coach the Magic only to back out of the deal and rescind his contract. The Magic then made an offer to Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, who accepted. 6-10 Seattle forward Rashard Lewis was also added in the offseason. In 2008 the Magic returned to the playoffs beating Toronto 4-1 in the first round but falling to Detroit 4-1 in the second round. Dwight Howard was First Team All-NBA in 2008 and 2009, he was also the youngest player ever to be named Defensive Player of the Year.
The Orlando Magic have only been around for 20 years but in that short time they have brought NBA fans two of the game’s all time greatest players in Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. Like all franchises, the Magic have been out to pasture, wallowing in anonymity for a few seasons before returning to contention. This year, the Magic have defeated the defending champion Celtics and the NBA’s best team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, lots of ugly players suit up in a Magic uniform every night, but at least they get the job done.