Orlando Angels

An oral history of Shaq, Penny, and the Orlando Magic’s lost NBA dynasty

via Grantland

You should probably read the whole piece (linked above), but here are some excerpts that I found particularly interesting:

Right after Shaq was drafted in 1992, the Magic GM recalls being pressed to trade him to the Lakers.

[Armato, Shaq’s agent] said, “Why don’t you trade him to L.A.? Trade him to the Lakers.” [I told him], “Leonard, we’re not going to do that. We’ll start him right here.”

Armato recalls it differently.

Shaq was never adamant about going to L.A. or any big market. He went to LSU, so it wasn’t like he was saying, “I need to go to some big market.” Our strategy wasn’t to force anybody to go anywhere. Maybe if he was picked by Minnesota he might have said, “I don’t want to go there.”

Shaq recalls his first days as a pro.

They flew me in a couple days before the draft. It was a beautiful city. For me, it was all about going there and getting my parents a house. That was the first thing I had to do. I said, “Daddy, you need to retire. Mom, you need to retire. Come with me.” So we got there — this is the going joke with me: I stayed at the Hyatt and spent like $500,000. It was me, my mother and father, brothers and sisters. Room service, movies. They go downstairs, charge it to the room. Three months later, half a million. My accountant says, “You know you could have bought a house by now?”

Shaq on the Magic going with Penny over Chris Webber.

This is my CEO mentality. I said, “I know C-Webb is a great player, but Penny — I need Penny.” So when they got Penny, I was thinking Magic and Kareem. And it worked! Penny was a bad boy — one of my favorite players.

Shaq’s mentality on Penny’s rise, which probably gives us an understanding of why his relationship with Kobe deteriorated as well.

Shaq was an alpha male and he wanted to be the man. He was the most dominant center in the game at that time. So his ego was it’s about me. I think the perception out there was Penny and Shaq’s relationship was a lot like Kobe and Shaq’s relationship. I think Shaq had respect for both guys. They both had respect for Shaq when it came down to: It’s game time. We’re between these lines, so let’s just get it done. Maybe we have differences, but that doesn’t matter because that’s off the court.

Nick Anderson, after making a comment that Michael Jordan #45 is not as lethal as #23 was in the 1995 Playoff series, which the Magic won.

I remember in that first game when we beat them, reporters made it seem like I said that 45 is not like 23. And then the next game, he came out wearing no. 23. He was sending a message that he was still no. 23.

Shaq, on eventually beating the Bulls, becoming the last team to beat a Jordan-led playoff team, and first since the 1990 Pistons.

People don’t give us credit for that because that’s when Michael came back. I actually asked my son a couple weeks ago and he didn’t know. I said, “Yeah, you know who the last guy to beat Michael Jordan was?” He said, “Nobody.” And I said, “Me.” I had to go back and show him. I’m proud of that. 

Penny, on beating the 1995 Bulls and the celebration after.

We beat the Bulls. We beat Michael. We were the last team to beat him in a playoff series, so we have some history. We gave them so much motivation to come back and kick our butts the next year. I don’t know why. That’s just Shaq. He picked Horace [former Bull] up and put him on his shoulders and that was showing the Bulls up. I mean, they came back the next year with a vengeance.

Horace Grant says.

I didn’t want to do that, but Shaq came to me and he said, “Man, get up on our shoulders.” I’m like, “No no no no.” And seriously, he really yelled: “You better get up here!” And he put me up and the excitement kinda took over.

Shaq on losing the 1995 Finals.

During the regular season, I used to have my way with [Hakeem Olajuwon]. But I celebrated too early. Once I got to the Finals, I felt I had him and I didn’t keep the mentality up. But he helped me get four more, because after losing, I said, “OK, now I know I can’t celebrate until it’s over. And even if I win [a championship], I can’t celebrate until my career’s over.” You had a guy that was fundamentally sound against a guy that was young, flamboyant, and talented. He taught me everything I needed to know about being a winner.

Nick Anderson, on his infamous 4-missed-free-throws incident, which lost them Game 1, and they never got their confidence back, getting swept in four.

I dealt with that. I never said anything about it for years, but emotionally, mentally that bothered me for a long time. It made it seem like I lost the game. It was because of me. I’ll never forget people would write articles: “Nick the brick.” “Nick choked.” As a young player, that changed my game. I stopped being aggressive because I was always thinking, What if I miss? That bothered me for years. 

Brian Hill, Orlando’s head coach.

I still believe to this day, if we had won Game 1, we would have won the series.

Brian Shaw, after the Finals loss.

You remember when LeBron left Cleveland and he went to Miami, he said, “We’re going to win not just one championship, but two and three.” That was how I felt with that team, that we were going to have great success for years and years, and it didn’t happen.

Brian Schmitz, Orlando Sentinel.

There was always an undercurrent that Shaq had to make sure everybody knew that he was the man. I think Shaq, just like he had trouble in L.A. with Kobe, eventually I think it bothered Shaquille with all the success Penny was having.

After the Magic lost to the 72-10 Bulls, Shaq was a free agent.

The [Magic] had [an offer of] 80 [million] and then they put up billboards [that] said, “No man’s worth $100 million.” Jerry West said, “I’ll give you whatever you want.” And then, the crazy thing is, I was going to come back [to Orlando] and get the 80. That’s when Juwan Howard got [$101 million] and Mourning got 105. So we called John [Gabriel] up and John wasn’t talking right, and Jerry West said, “Hey, right now we can give you 98, but we can probably get you some things on the side.” He called me later — about three in the morning — and said, “We’re going to get you 120.” I said, “I’ll meet you over there.”

That was the year they traded Divac and got the first [round] pick and drafted Kobe from Charlotte with that pick. That was Jerry West’s finest moment. That was marvelous front-office work by him.

The moment Penny found out.

I was at a press conference for the Olympics in Atlanta and we were all on a panel and they asked me how did I feel about losing Shaq, and I was like, “What do you mean?” That’s how I found out. I was devastated. I still had to play the Olympics, but I knew the Magic were not the Magic anymore without Shaq. There’s no way you can replace him. It crushed me because I felt like we were going to do so many more big things together. And he left. I knew going to L.A. was going to be great for those guys. Kobe was young and [the Lakers] are going out to get a supporting cast [for] their stars. I knew it was going to be trouble.

The moment Nick Anderson found out.

I will never forget sitting on my couch, watching track and field during the Olympics, when the press conference came and Shaquille O’Neal was holding up a jersey going to the Los Angeles Lakers. My cell phone rings right during that time: My dad says, “You know your championships just went to L.A.?”

And just like that, it was over…

The Magic’s first season without O’Neal got off to a 24-25 start before turning sour over what would later be described as a mutiny against coach Brian Hill. After Richie Adubato was hired to replace Hill as interim coach, the team rallied and made the 1997 playoffs, where they lost in the first round to Miami. Chuck Daly became Orlando’s coach the following season, but knee injuries limited Hardaway to just 19 games. He would never fully recover. O’Neal, meanwhile, would go on to win three championships with the Lakers and Kobe Bryant.

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