Anyone else noticing the sudden nostalgia for Shaquille O’Neal‘s early days in Orlando? My evidence for this is the recent rush of video games that have included classic teams. And instead of adding in O’Neal championship teams from his days in Los Angeles or Miami, we instead see O’Neal in the familiar pinstripes of Orlando.
Not that I am complaining. It is great to play as some of those underrated Magic teams from the mid-1990s (not to mention seeing digital recreations of Orlando Arena at the height of all its glory).
Considering how O’Neal left Central Florida and the relatively short time he was in Orlando, not to mention his lack of championships, you would not blame anyone for forgetting that O’Neal even played in Orlando. Really, only people in Orlando and Magic fans still think of O’Neal’s teams from that era and the impact his departure had on the franchise.
Yet, nostalgia comes rushing back pretty quickly when we see O’Neal and the 1995 Magic featured in NBA2K12 and a pinstripe-clad O’Neal featured in the latest edition of NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. Yes, you can now play an O’Neal/Dwight Howard lineup if you wanted to on NBA Jam. Good luck getting a shot off with that crew on NBA Jam. Backboards beware.
O’Neal retired this summer, ending a very distinguished career that saw him win four NBA championships and become one of the most dominating and imposing players in league history. It brought up a lot of different emotions in Magic fans and across the league.
Orlando has always been home to O’Neal since he joined the NBA. He kept a house in Isleworth in nearby Windermere and he spends a good portion of his offseason in Central Florida. He always said he would come back to Orlando and would be interested in becoming a part owner in the team or even becoming Orange County Sherrif.
He hinted during his retirement conference, and reportedly specifically mentions in his memoirs written with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen (see the Magic DriveTime interview with Pat Williams from , that he regretted the way his time in Orlando ended. He chalked it up to his (and perhaps the franchise’s) immaturity.
We know O’Neal has had a funny way of showing it as he seemed to always find ways to tweak the city and the franchise.
Now though, all we seem to have is the highlights. And when most of the league takes a step back and looks at Shaq’s career, perhaps his time in Orlando is seen in a much different way than we see it in Orlando. Maybe it is seen with the nostalgia that Magic fans may not have.
Those mid-1990s teams were incredibly fun to watch. And seemingly everyone recognized it. If it were not for some horrible timing, we might be talking about a potential dynasty. Unfortunately a lot of things in establishing those kind of long championship runs are out of your hands. Sometimes there are unprecedented teams that set the bar to a new level — see the 1996 Bulls.
Video games are going to be a great way for Magic fans to regain some appreciation — and lose some of the bitterness — over the Shaq years. I got excited when I heard that the 1995 Magic, one of the most memorable seasons in team history, were included in NBA2K12. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy and start chucking shots up with Dennis Scott and Penny Hardaway and dominating the low post with a young and spsry Shaquille O’Neal.
With O’Neal’s career over, maybe it is the potential of what O’Neal could have become that makes those Orlando teams so tantalizing. Back then it was clearer than ever how much O’Neal loved to play the game. He was a ball of energy that could not be contained.
Moving to LA brought him championships but brought him complacency too. He seemed more concerned with fame than showing the passion we all knew he had for the game on the court.
His time in Orlando was a reminder of how much fun it could be to watch basketball. And how a Goliath could make the game fun and have a personality too.
Maybe this is why the O’Neal Magic teams continue to have such an interesting pull for the rest of the league. For a lot of people, O’Neal’s era in Orlando still defines the franchise. And, overall, it is not a bad face for the franchise. So forgive us all if we take a moment to reflect and bask in what could have been with those mid-90s teams. They are memorialized forever now on the video game console.
Photo via DayLife.com.