Like their Florida counterparts, the Orlando Magic have accomplished quite a bit in their 22-year NBA life: four distinct superstars, a pair of draft lottery wins, two Finals trips. This team’s done it all- except for winning it all.
But the thing is, for as great as Shaq, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard have been, what’s most responsible for making the Magic memorable is the NBA on NBC.
I remember Sunday mornings in the early 1990s. 10 am Pacific time. As Meet the Press wound down, John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” would play. I’d start getting pumped for the week’s showcase Eastern Conference game.
We were getting either the Bulls or the Magic. Michael or Shaq. But it was more than that. I wanted the Magic at home. That was the best. The great pinstriped home jerseys. The (back then) awesome home crowd. The black-and-blue key on the parquet floor at the O-rena. I was never a Magic fan, but that was a pretty awesome viewing experience.
The team’s had its highs and lows in the intervening years: reaching the 1995 Finals; getting swept out of the 1995 Finals; Shaq leaving town; Penny Hardaway’s injuries; T-Mac at his brilliant best; 200 games from Grant Hill over six seasons; Stevie Franchise; Steve Get The Hell Away From Our Franchise; Dwight Howard in the 2004 draft; reaching the 2009 Finals; getting bounced in five games.
A lot’s changed in the past decade and a half. Shaq’s having a tough time finding work. Grant Hill is healthier and a better player than Tracy McGrady. I’m in my 30s. The early game now starts at 1:00 pm, and is now on ABC, not NBC.
But you know what? The Orlando Magic, led by a fun-loving big man, are still a staple of that early Sunday game. The pinstripes and the awesome crowds are gone, but it’s close enough.