Do you believe in Magic?
In 1987, the NBA decided to expand their league by adding four new teams. The Charlotte Hornets, the Miami Heat, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Orlando Magic. Orlando seemed to be a curious choice because although it is home to Walt Disney World, it was a small market in contrast to it’s fellow Florida city Miami. But, the Magic would make their presence.
With their first pick ever in 1989, the Magic took Nick Anderson (remember the name), a guard from the University of Illinois, who played in Chicago at the fame Simien Career Academy, the same high school as a close friend and fallen teammate Benji Wilson, and was coming off a Final Four appearance. Anderson would help the Magic to an early accomplishment as the Magic defeated the defending champion Detroit Pistons in a preseason game.
Yet, the days of Magic would get BIGGER. They won the first pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, the same draft Horry was selected. Instead of drafting two-time national champion Christian Laettner of Duke or power center Alonzo Mourning of Georgetown, the Magic made a BIG splash drafting Shaquille O’Neal of LSU. Shaq would win rookie of the Year and would earn praise from fans while drawing criticisms from other players for his side gig as a rapper. Orlando came one game short of making the playoffs losing the eighth spot to the Indiana Pacers.
Then, the Magic struck gold again. Once again, they won the first pick to the next year’s NBA Draft and selected Fab Five member Chris Webber. Instead of keeping Webber, the Magic traded him and got Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway out of Memphis State, who was Shaq’s co-star in the iconic movie Blue Chips.
Together, the Magic would make the playoffs in 1994 but were swept in the first round to the Indiana Pacers. But, the future seemed brighter when the Magic acquired three-time champion, Horace Grant, from the Chicago Bulls, who had played with Michael Jordan until MJ decided to trade hoops for a glove and a bat.
By 1995, the Magic seemed to be a traveling circus. Everywhere they went, it was Shaq, Penny, and company and they would even have a few appearances in various forms of entertainment.
Shaq had his commercials and rapping gig.
Penny Hardaway would have a talking doll (Lil’ Penny) played by Chris Rock.
Dennis Scott appeared on a Nickelodeon show called My Brother and Me.
So you can clearly understand why the Magic were getting attention and seen as a future dynasty.
Together, along with their head coach Brian Hill, the Magic would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference. This was when things got interesting for Orlando. In a time when it was customary for teams to learn to lose in the playoffs before winning, the Magic overachieved. First, they ended the Boston Celtics’ run at the famed Boston Garden.
Then came a showdown with a returning Michael Jordan, who wore #45, and the Bulls in the semifinals. In fact, it was Nick Anderson who would make the biggest play of his life by stealing the ball against the GOAT.
The Magic would go on to win the series in six games being the only team to eliminate an MJ-led Bulls team during the 90’s. After that, the Magic would meet their rival Pacers again.
While there was the epic Game 4 which saw both teams trade game-winning baskets before Indiana won, the Magic won the series in seven games setting up the showdown of the millennium. A team looking for respect and to shut the doubters up against a team looking to coronate themselves as the next best dynasty in the land of make-believe. What could possibly go wrong?
A Red Wedding?