In 2000, the Orlando Magic were set to assemble their own big three by adding Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady. One rule changed it all.
The Orlando Magic of the early 2000s were a great what if in league history.
Tracy McGrady blossomed into an All-NBA player and one of the most marketable superstars in the league. But he could never get out of the first round. That was largely because Grant Hill was struggling to return from various ankle and leg injuries. That kept him out for the majority of McGrady’s four years in Orlando. Hill played just 47 games in that time.
It was not until after McGrady left that Hill was healthy enough to play more than 50 games in a season. By then it was too late. Hill’s athleticism was not the same and his ability was sapped some. He ended up carving a very nice second act to his career in those final three years in Orlando and then longer with the Phoenix Suns.
Hill, who is now a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, joined McGrady on ESPN’s The Jump this week to reminisce about those Magic days and what could have been. Their contemporary Paul Pierce was dutifully chiming in to say if Grant Hill were healthy, the Magic would have been to at least one, maybe two NBA Finals.
Of course, the greatest what-if remains what would have happened if the Orlando Magic lured Tim Duncan away from the San Antonio Spurs.
By all accounts of the meetings the Magic had with Duncan, he was very close to joining the Magic. A number of factors seemed to tip things the other way.
And, increasingly of late, the story of how coach Doc Rivers denied Tim Duncan’s request to allow wives and girlfriends on the team plane. A story that was well known before this recent rehashing.
With Hill on the show, Rachel Nichols asked him about the infamous meeting. Hill said he was there and you could feel the room change when Rivers denied the request to allow wives and girlfriends on the team plane:
McGrady’s reaction as Hill tells that story is one of heartbreak. He is visibly struggling to get through that segment, although playfully.
And Pierce does his best to twist the knife. He said Rivers changed his policy by the time he was coaching the Boston Celtics in 2008. He allowed Kevin Garnett to bring his significant other on the team plane.
It is hard to know exactly what caused Duncan to change his mind or toss and turn on this decision. Certainly, there are plenty of stories of the Magic frantically trying to make Duncan’s visit the best it could be. And it appears the Magic came very close to signing the future hall of fame player.
Still, the most compelling story on how Duncan decided to stay in San Antonio had to do with a last-minute trip from Spurs brass. As the story goes, David Robinson cut his vacation to Hawaii short and traveled with Gregg Popovich to the Virgin Islands where Tim Duncan was making a final decision. The two met with Duncan all weekend and convinced him to stay.
The rest is history. The Spurs won four more championships with Duncan. And he continued his career path as perhaps the best power forward in league history.
Did Rivers’ policy against wives and girlfriends on the team plane cost the Magic Duncan? It may have simply opened the door for the Spurs to squeeze through.
We may never know the whole story of that fateful summer.