The franchise began in 1989. Legend has it the GM’s seven-year-old daughter called Orlando’s Disney World “magic” and a franchise nickname was born.
The Orlando Magic began play in the NBA in 1989-90 and, like most expansion teams, struggled miserably. The Magic went 18-64 in their first year.
The one good thing about the early challenges of being an expansion team is that they usually get to draft pretty high. In 1992, the Magic won the draft lottery and had the No. 1 pick.
Orlando selected the franchise’s savior – Shaquille O’Neal. The 7-footer would easily win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1992-93 after averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds per game.
In 1993, Magic would happen again as Orlando won the draft lottery a second time. They would select Chris Webber out of Michigan, but the player they really wanted was Memphis point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. Orlando traded Webber to Golden State and received Hardaway plus three future first-round draft picks.
Things started to take off for Orlando in 1993-94. The Magic went 50-32 and finished second in the Atlantic Division. They lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs to Indiana.
Chicago’s Michael Jordan had announced his retirement prior to the ’93-’94 season. It left the door open for a new power in the Eastern Conference. In 1994-95 and 1995-96, the magic were primed to take advantage.
The Magic would win the Atlantic Division in both seasons and finish first and second, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. The ’94-’95 season ended with the Magic in the NBA Finals, but they were swept by Houston.
That season, Orlando had O’Neal who averaged 29 points and 11 rebounds, Hardaway who scored 21 a game and dished out seven assists, Nick Anderson who scored 16 points a game, and Horace Grant who averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds. It was a quality NBA roster.
It was such a quality roster that it beat Chicago with Jordan after he announced his return to the game in the spring of 1995. But, the two teams would meet again in the Eastern Conference finals in ’96. The result? Chicago swept the Magic in four games.
Little did the franchise know that would be the end of a dynasty that could have been. In the offseason, the Magic offered the now free agent O’Neal $54 million over four seasons. It was less than what Alonzo Mourning and Juwan Howard had recently signed for.
The slap in the face sent O’Neal to Los Angeles and sent a once promising Magic dynasty to bed. Orlando has made it back to the NBA Finals. They were beaten by the Lakers 4-1 and remain one of 11 franchises that have never won an NBA title.