A regular game night for the 1996 Orlando Magic would be a big deal today. As the present Magic struggle through another injury-riddled season, we can only wonder what it would be like if or when the team could return to the days when the hometown team was one of the best in the league.
So I decided to just scroll back 25 years to the date: March 10, 1996.
On this day, the Magic played a home game at the old Orlando Arena against the Phoenix Suns. It was a Sunday game and the Magic were riding a six-game winning streak and came in with a record of 46-15. Let that sink in a moment. They were 46-15. That's 46 wins in 61 games. The Suns were 30-30.
Two days earlier, Orlando beat Charlotte in overtime 117-112. Shaq went for 36 and Penny scored 31 in the win.
The game with the Suns came before a four-game west coast trip and saw six of the next seven games be on the road.
A season earlier, Brian Hill's team made the magical(see what I did there?) run to the NBA Finals and lost to the Rockets. Despite getting swept in the Finals, the feeling was Orlando was the team of the future. Michael Jordan had "retired" and it was not if, but when Orlando would win a championship and how many could Shaq and Penny reel off.
So it was no surprise the Magic dominated the 1995-96 regular season. Orlando's roster that season featured O'Neal and Hardaway with Dennis Scott, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Brian Shaw.
Inside the arena that night, those names for the Magic played the Suns featuring Charles Barkely, Kevin Johnson, Danny Manning, Michael Finley, "Hot Rod" Williams and an aging AC Green.
Orlando led 28-26 after the first quarter and 59-52 at the half. The Magic led 84-82 after three quarters before Penny and Nick Anderson hit some big buckets to lead Orlando to a 122-106 win outscoring the Suns 36-22 in the final period. Shaq battled foul problems late and ended the game with five fouls but still scored 25 points with only four rebounds. Nick Anderson led the team with 25. Horace Grant added a double-double with 20 and 11. Penny had 20 with 14 assists while Dennis Scott and reserve Donald Royal were in double figures as well. Both teams combined for 83 free throws. Orlando took 44 shots from the line.
The Suns were led by Danny Manning, who scored 32. Barkley went for 21 points with 15 rebounds.
There was no big celebration when the horn sounded to end the game. The Magic were expected to win. Oh, those were the days.
Orlando lost at Denver and Seattle(Seattle actually had a team. I am not kidding. Look it up. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were on that team.)
After those losses, the Magic won five straight and eight of nine and stood at 55-18 at that point.
The team went on to go 60-22 that season. They easily swept Atlanta in the opening round in three and then won the first three in the series against Atlanta before dropping game four. But the Magic won game five to advance to the conference finals against.......Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan did come out of retirement and a motivated Michael meant the end of a magical season and an end of what was supposed to be a dynasty in Orlando. The Magic got swept in four. Shaq left to join the Lakers in the summer and 49 games into the 1996-97 season Brian Hill was fired and Richie Adubato replaced him. Rony Seikaly was the center and things were never the same.
Stan Van Gundy brought the fun days back and took a team to the Finals in 2009 before losing in five games to the Lakers.
These days, big regular season games are hard to find for the Magic. Without a star player, it's not the same. Today, opponents see the Magic as a game they should win. But 25 years ago today, teams looked at the Magic hoping they could be in the game with a chance to win but knowing it likely was not going to happen. Those were the good old days.
Final thought: If you chew gum while cutting onions, it will prevent you from watering. Chewing gum leads you to breathe through your mouth so your nose avoids the irritation from the onion that causes tears.
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