Orlando Magic will honor Darrell Armstrong, a star who belongs to Orlando alone

Darrell Armstrong made his name as an energy spark plug. And now he will enter the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. (Copyright 2001 NBAE Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina /NBAE/Getty Images)
Darrell Armstrong made his name as an energy spark plug. And now he will enter the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. (Copyright 2001 NBAE Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina /NBAE/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are set to induct Darrell Armstrong into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. He is a star that belongs solely to the Magic and their fan base.

The first time I remember seeing Darrell Armstrong was a brief mention in a late-season game. The broadcast showed him briefly on the bench to note his signing and then turned back to the far more important task at hand.

Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway were finishing off a masterful season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the first division title in franchise history. The NBA Finals were in their future.

Darrell Armstrong was signed April 8 with just eight games remaining that season. He would play in only three games that season and was left off the playoff active roster. But Armstrong was along for the ride.

Throughout that 1995 Playoffs run, Armstrong could be seen in an oversized suit celebrating and hanging on every play and move. He was a bundle of energy as a player off the bench. Never mind that he could actually play.

Armstrong stuck with the Magic because of his energy. He never really got his chance until the 1997 season when his boundless energy became the stuff of legend. If Anfernee Hardaway was the air that kept that 1997 series alive, Armstrong was the heartbeat, hounding Tim Hardaway when Richie Adubato turned him loose. The Magic nearly pulled off that upset.

And Armstrong’s place with the Magic was set. He was their energy point guard off the bench. And eventually their starter.

He was the “Heart” of Heart and Hustle. A leader who would give up his body — as he famously did diving on the floor against the Chicago Bulls and proudly showing off the floor burn he earned for it.

Armstrong was the stuff of legend for Magic fans. He is a clear-cut member of the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. When Armstrong visits Orlando as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 21, the Magic will officially enshrine Armstrong in the team’s Hall of Fame.

Armstrong averaged 11.7 points per game and 4.0 assists per game in nine seasons with the Magic from 1995-2003. His peak season was in 2000 — the famed Heart & Hustle year — when he averaged 16.2 points and 6.1 assists per game. He was the Sixth Man and Most Improved Player of the Year Award winner in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

These are not the most impressive numbers. To outsiders, Armstrong probably is not worthy of mention in the Magic’s elite. To outsiders, he probably is a footnote — the odd player they maybe grab in NBA 2K who probably is not quite presented how he was in real life thanks to some of their suped-up rankings for role players.

Nationally, Armstrong is probably known for a somewhat embarrassing performance in the 1996 Slam Dunk Contest.

To Magic fans, Armstrong defined the Magic for several years. He was truly a hometown, homegrown star. He was someone the Magic plucked from obscurity, stuck with as he learned the NBA game and then reaped the benefits when they gave him his chance.

Really, it was Armstrong earning every minute he got on the court. He knew the only way he would see the floor was if he outplayed and outhustled everyone. It was hard to keep that on the bench for long. Every team needs an Armstrong.

But few of those guys become transcendent and define an entire ethos or an entire team. Let alone, one of the most beloved teams in the Magic’s 31-year history.

Armstrong was inevitably going to make the Magic’s Hall of Fame. It is impossible to tell the team’s story without him. He will follow the Magic’s retired Hall of Famers as the team has already inducted players Nick Anderson (the first draft pick), Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway and Tracy McGrady. Dwight Howard is still playing and he will follow in soon after he retires (bridges appear to have been mended somewhat).

Armstrong is absolutely in the tier below those guys. As far as fan appreciation, Armstrong is still one of the most popular players in Magic history.

Darrell Armstrong’s place is more like Nick Anderson. He was the homegrown star. The guy that only Magic fans can truly appreciate. He had little impact beyond his time in a Magic uniform. And maybe even that time did not really resonate nationally.

That is what makes Armstrong even more special. He belongs wholly to the Magic fan base. A deep cut of Magic fandom that the casual fan could easily miss or under-appreciate.

Watching some of his old highlights, it is fun to watch him play again. And sharing some of his best highlights with the rest of the world — or telling it to younger Magic fans — is a joy that only this fan base gets to have.

Armstrong getting his turn in the Magic Hall of Fame was a no-brainer. It was inevitable.

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And Magic fans can certainly be glad it is here when Feb. 21 comes around.