The Orlando Magic have now been playing basketball for 22 years. The team has some proud moments; after all, they won the Eastern Conference twice and reached the playoffs 14 times. They’ve had scoring champions, 6th Man of the Year Award winners, All-Stars, even a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. But rather than focusing on all the good things, take a look at the 10 worst moments in the still relatively short history of the Orlando Magic:
10. Darrell Armstrong’s Performance in the Slam Dunk Contest
6’1″ Magic guard Darrell Armstrong was selected to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest the night before the 1996 NBA All-Star Game in San Antonio. Why, to this day remains unknown. Armstrong had no history of highlight dunks and it showed during his second dunk attempt in the contest. Armstrong was about four inches off the ground after getting a running start and ending up nowhere near the rim. Rather than a highlight dunk, Armstrong missed a reverse layup. Needless to say, Armstrong finished last and his performance in the dunk contest remains one of the worst showings ever in the event.
9. Trading Tracy McGrady
Following the 2003-04 season, Magic superstar guard Tracy McGrady demanded to be traded. A trade which was honored by the Magic. McGrady took flack for not being able to get Orlando past the first round, but in his four years with the Magic, McGrady made the All-Star Game every year, won two scoring titles and took Orlando to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. The Magic acquired Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato from Houston in exchange for McGrady. The three never gelled in Orlando as the Magic never made the playoffs with any of those three players on the roster. In fact, Mobley didn’t even last one whole season before being dealt. McGrady still failed to get the Rockets past the first round, but made them an instant playoff team.
8. Tim Hardaway’s Dagger in the 1997 NBA Playoffs
The first round of the NBA Playoffs was only five games back in 1997. After getting blown out by the in-state rival Miami Heat in Games 1 and 2, the Orlando Magic rallied to win a pair of home games to even the series and force a decisive Game 5. Miami led big most of the way, but Orlando drew to within three with under a minute to play. But with the Magic needing a stop and a three to force overtime, Heat guard Tim Hardaway buried a trey over Nick Anderson with 14.1 seconds to play to kill Orlando’s hopes of rallying from an 0-2 hole to win the series. The Heat went on to win Game 5 by a score of 91-83 and take the series 3-2. Orlando would go the following 10 seasons without winning a playoff series.
7. Game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals
The Orlando Magic had reached the NBA Finals for just the second time in team history in 2009. After dropping the first two games to the Lakers in Los Angeles, Orlando won Game 3 and appeared on the verge of evening the series in Game 4. The Magic led 87-84 with 11 seconds to go and center Dwight Howard on the free throw line, needing to make just one of two free throws to ice the game. Howard missed both and the Lakers pushed the other way. Los Angeles guard Derek Fisher nailed a triple with four seconds to play to even the game at 87 and eventually force overtime. Orlando was outscored 12-4 in the extra period as the Lakers took a commanding three games to one lead in the series. Los Angeles would end the series with a 99-86 victory in Game 5.
6. Blowing a 3-1 Series Lead to the Pistons in 2003
The Orlando Magic had not been out of the first round of the playoffs since 1996. Despite being the 8th seed in the first round of the 2003 playoffs and facing the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Detroit Pistons, Orlando claimed control of the series early. The Magic stole Game 1 in Detroit and would win Game 3 and Game 4 in Orlando to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Magic looked on the verge of becoming just the third 8-seed to ever get out of the first round. But the Magic would be on the wrong side of history and end up becoming just the sixth team to lead a series 3-1 and not win the series. The Pistons took the final three games by an average margin of more than 20 points and blew out the Magic in Game 7 by a score of 108-93. It would be five years before the Magic would win a playoff series while Detroit won the NBA Finals the very next season.
5. Signing Grant Hill
Prior to the 2000-01 NBA season, the Magic were able to land their biggest free agent acquisition ever when they signed Detroit Pistons’ superstar forward Grant Hill to a maximum 6-year, $96 million deal. Hill was coming off a career-year for Detroit in which he averaged nearly 26 points-per-game. But Hill’s Orlando career never materialized. Hill missed 282 of a possible 492 games including 199 of a possible 246 games his first three years with the team. Hill would eventually help Orlando reach the playoffs following the 2006-07 regular season, but it came as a role player as Orlando was swept by Hill’s former team, the Pistons. To make matters worse, Hill signed with Phoenix the following year and missed just 15 games in his first four seasons combined with the Suns.
4. Losing Shaq to Los Angeles
Drafted first overall in 1992, Shaquille O’Neal became the first superstar to ever play his home games in Orlando. After winning Rookie of the Year during the 1992-93 season, taking the Magic to their first ever playoff appearance in the 1993-94 season, taking the franchise to their first NBA Finals appearance during the 1994-95 season and back to the conference finals the following season, O’Neal left Orlando to play in Los Angeles for the Lakers. With the duo of O’Neal and guard Anfernee Hardaway, Orlando looked to have a possible dynasty in the making, but Shaq’s departure ended those dreams. O’Neal would go on to be a four-time NBA champion and three-time NBA Finals MVP, but none came with the Magic. O’Neal won three titles with the Lakers and one later in his career with the in-state rival Miami Heat. As for Orlando, it would be a dozen years after O’Neal left before the Magic would even win a playoff series.
3. The Dwight Howard Saga
Center Dwight Howard, who like O’Neal, was taken first overall in the 2004 NBA Draft looked to help Orlando fans put the bitter memory of O’Neal behind them. Howard was a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and was the best player on a Magic team that reached the 2009 NBA Finals. But following a first round exit in 2011, Howard decided like superstars before that he wanted out of Orlando. The 2011-12 season went on with questions as to whether Howard would remain with the Magic through the season or be dealt at the trade deadline. At the March trade deadline, Howard decided to remove his opt out clause following the season and stay with Orlando through the 2012-13 NBA season. But perhaps the most embarrassing moment came when head coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters at a press conference that he was told by management that Howard wanted him out as head coach. Howard walked out to meet the reporters seconds later and denied all allegations. Howard’s season would end with back surgery and Van Gundy would be fired following the season. During the offseason however, Howard’s trade demands grew stronger as the superstar center insisted that he not only wanted to be traded, but wanted to be sent to one team, the Brooklyn Nets. Howard even went as far as to say the team blackmailed him into waiving his option to get out of his contract and tried to file a grievance. For a guy who brought so much hope to the franchise, it appears to be a bitter way to leave the team and city that invested so much in him.
2. Drafting Fran Vazquez
Few first round picks in the NBA are a sure thing. But there are busts and then there is Fran Vazquez. With the 11th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic took Spanish forward Fran Vazquez. Vazquez was a 6’10″ forward with a good skill set, but there was one problem: Vazquez did not want to play in the NBA. Seven years later, the Magic still have the rights to Vazquez, but the forward from Spain has still yet and likely won’t play in a NBA game for Orlando.
1. Nick Anderson’s Four Missed Free Throws in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals
The Orlando Magic reached the NBA Finals in 1995 for the first time in franchise history and in Game 1 in front of a raucous Orlando crowd jumped to a 20-point-lead over the defending champion Houston Rockets. The Orlando lead was whittled to three with 10 seconds to play when Magic guard Nick Anderson went to the free throw line for two free throws needing to make just one to make it a two possession game and potentially wrap the game up. Anderson missed both free throws, but rebounded his own miss and was fouled and sent to the line for two more. Anderson missed the next two as well and this time, Houston grabbed the rebound. The Rockets got a three from Kenny Smith to send the game into overtime where Houston outscored Orlando 10-8 to win Game 1 by a 120-118 score. The Magic never recovered from the Game 1 loss as they were swept by the Rockets. No one knows how the series would have turned out, but it makes one wonder what would have happened during that series had Anderson made just one foul shot.
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