The 25th Anniversary season has come and gone pretty quickly. Maybe there were points when fans wanted it to go quicker with the way the 23-win season progressed. It certainly was not the 25th anniversary season the Magic envisioned when they probably began making plans for the Silver Anniversary Season.
It is what it is. And the parade of former Magic players who made their way into the Amway Center was a nice aside from a frustrating season. Seeing the fans recognize former All Stars like Tracy McGrady, Anfernee Hardaway and Grant Hill returned to Amway Center and got appreciation after leaving on uncertain terms with fans. Fan favorites like Nick Anderson, Darrell Armstrong and Bo Outlaw. It was a fantastic tribute.
There was still the noticeable absence of several former Magic players that did not make their way through Orlando this past year. And then there was the absence of a, perhaps, more formal reunion of that inaugural team.
For a team that won only 18 games, there were some incredible memories from that first season. It included a preseason win over the Detroit Pistons which Nick Anderson described as “like winning the championship” with the way the city reacted. There was Otis Smith‘s running layup to defeat Michael Jordan and the Bulls on a day Jordan scored 50 points. There was a replay when he hit another shot to defeat Magic Johnson and the Lakers in their first visit to Orlando.
The Magic got off to the fastest start of any expansion team — sitting at 8-11 in early December before the wheels started to fall off.
Of the notable names that did not make it back to Amway Center from that inaugural team include Smith, the former Magic general manager who resigned following Stan Van Gundy’s fire; Scott Skiles, who was asked to return for a Legends Night, but reportedly declined; Matt Guokas, who stopped doing color analysis for the Magic before the year began quite suddenly.
There was no original team reunion or formal recognition of the men who started it all for the Magic.
Maybe they did not need that special recognition. Most 18-win seasons, even inaugural ones, are forgettable. Many of the players on that team were long gone by the time the Magic began contending with the drafting of Shaquille O’Neal. Casual Magic fans might only be able to name Scott Skiles and Nick Anderson off that team.
Being a part of that team though remains a memorable time for the ones that were a part of it.
“[It was a] wonderful, wonderful time,” said original Magic starting point guard Sam Vincent, who won a championship with the Celtics and played with Jordan and the Bulls before being selected in the Expansion Draft by the Magic. “Being part of that original team, the excitement from that original community that really supported us and made the team feel special, but came in for a bunch of journeymen players. It was really a special time. The Orlando community really embraced the team. and the guys played hard. It was a fun year.”
The lasting legacy of that initial team was not just the exciting style of play and effort the Magic put on the floor. It was the way a growing Orlando community took to being on the big stage, selling out the old Orlando Arena for an 18-win team and bringing energy and passion to each game.
Legends that were here for those early years talked continually about how the community embraced the team and, honestly, how surprised they were at the passion and enthusiasm in which they did.
“Those first years were special years,” Vincent said. “I think that’s why this community has bonded so well with the team. Those first years with those first players, that expansion team, we had guys that came in and played hard. Didn’t win a lot of games, but we enjoyed playing and we enjoyed the community and there was a connection to the community.
“And then I think when Shaq and Penny and that next group came in, they had some incredible years where they got to the finals and teh Magic really went to another level. But I think it was those early years that created that bond that, even though the team may struggle from time to time, people love the team and really support the team.”
Obviously, things changed. The expansion team could not stay together long. The organization grew and expanded, finding itself with the drafting of Shaquille O’Neal in 1992. There have been a few distinct eras in Magic history already in 25 short years. The expansion era is the easiest to forget both for its brevity and its lack of success.
It is easy to forget this first step — especially as new fans who did not experience the expansion years become the core demographic of Magic fans. Those first years were important for the growth and development of the franchise, and for planting seeds and roots in the community.
“I think what people need to remember was how this organization has grown and the steps it has taken,” said Jeff Turner, now the Magic’s television color analyst and officially the Magic’s first free agent acquisition. “There was some pain and suffering early. We were always able to add good pieces. I think that’s kind of the model that we’re seeing now. After the breakup with Shaq and Penny and everything, we saw it kind of go to Heart & Hustle. Then we get Dwight, you add pieces and you’ve got a championship contender.”
Turner has been through it all with the Magic, really spending only about five years outside the Magic organization since 1989. He knows about everyone that has been involved with the Magic, having served as radio color analyst after his playing days ended and before joining the TV side.
Among the original Magic players still hanging around include John Gabriel, who is a scout for the Knicks but still lives in Orlando and is often at Magic games. Guokas still makes radio appearances on The Beat of Sports with Marc Daniels on 740 AM in Orlando. Nick Anderson remains a community ambassador.
Vincent said he still stays in touch with a few of the players from his Magic days including Dave Corzine, now working in Chicago with DePaul; Mark Acres, now in Los Angeles; Jerry Reynolds and Dennis Scott (taken a year after the expansion year in the NBA Draft).
Vincent said they do not talk too often about that first year. Really, who wants to relive an 18-win season? But they do share a special bond from being teammates that year.
Like for them, for Magic fans the good memories of that foundational year remain deep within the community’s psyche. There is no Magic as we know them now without the magic of that first year. The connection between team and community and between players was established then and still lasts today.