An Orlando Magic Hall of Famer, that’s Darrell Armstrong

The myth of Darrell Armstrong makes him a fan favorite. But we often forget how solid he was a player. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP/Getty Images)
The myth of Darrell Armstrong makes him a fan favorite. But we often forget how solid he was a player. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP/Getty Images) /

Darrell Armstrong’s journey to the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame was an unlikely one. But he overcame every challenge and ingrained himself into Magic lore.

Darrell Armstrong should never have been here getting inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. The long and winding road for him to get to the league is almost astronomical to think of.

He did not start playing basketball until his junior year of high school when a coach told him he believed he could play at the next level, giving him drills to work on to help improve his shooting and take advantage of his athleticism.

He was supposed to go unnoticed while playing at tiny Fayetteville State and then playing overseas in Greece and Cyprus and various minor leagues in the U.S.  Even when he made the NBA, it was never supposed to be for long.

As Darrell Armstrong told it, one of his coaches in those minor leagues was trying to find a reason to cut him, but he kept beating out everyone else on the roster. He just continued to have that drive. Doing so even when he was working the overnight shift in a textile mill to make money.

That drive was what defined him. That drive is what made him the engine and heartbeat of the famous Heart and Hustle team. That drive is what helped Armstrong go from completely off the NBA radar to a 14-year NBA pro.

And now a member of the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. Forever enshrined as one of the fundamental pillars in Magic history.

This is Darrell Armstrong.

"“I wanted to make that team playing the right way,” Armstrong said after his Hall of Fame induction. “People fall in love with guys who play hard and do the little things. I just tried to do the little things that provide my team sparks. I never knew I’d be in this situation honestly. I just wanted to play and have the opportunity to go out and show it.”"

Armstrong knew he finally made it not when he signed with the Magic on April 8, 1995, but rather a game against the Atlanta Hawks in November two seasons later. Armstrong never played more than seven minutes in any game his first two seasons with the Magic, totaling just 16 games in the 1995 and 1996 seasons.

But here he was going toe-to-toe with Mookie Blaylock, another diminutive guard who liked to pressure ball-handlers all the way up the floor. Armstrong’s 10 points in the final 2:30 of the third quarter proved valuable and were a preview of the spark he would provide for so many years in Orlando.

That was supposed to be the end of it. A nice role coming off the bench for spot minutes. But after falling behind 2-0 in the 1997 Playoffs series with the Miami Heat and facing elimination, coach Richie Adubato had two adjustments to make.

The first, and most obvious, was tell Anfernee Hardaway to carry the team. the other was to put Darrell Armstrong into the starting lineup. He proceeded to hold Tim Hardaway to 25.9-percent shooting in the final three games of the series with 3.7 turnovers per game. If not for a pair of clutch 3-pointers at the end of Game 5, the Magic might have pulled off that crazy upset of the 2-seed Heat.

All Armstrong wanted to do was help his teammates. When he was given the chance, he delivered. And he earned everything.

"“He was that guy when he came in the game, there are not many guys you depended on that were going to be in the right spots at the right time and let you know I’ve got your back,” Nick Anderson said before the Hall of Fame induction. “That was Darrell Armstrong. If he beats you or send him this way, I’m going to be right there. That’s Darrell Armstrong.”"

Everyone kept throwing down gauntlets for Armstrong and he kept passing them by. He won Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1999. His old coach Chuck Daly described Darrell Armstrong as having a heart bigger than his body.

That will go a long way. It can be everything for a young player.

It ultimately was what defined him and became his legacy. As the leader of the Heart and Hustle team in 2000, Darrell Armstrong led a group that was projected to win fewer than 20 games — fewer than 15 by some publications — after losing Anfernee Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Horace Grant to cap-clearing trades and pushed them to a 41-41 record, a game shy of a playoff berth.

This is still the team fans comment to Armstrong about. The team that lives on in everyone’s memory and the legacy he created.

"“When you play this game, that’s all you ask for,” Armstrong said as he was inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame. “All you ask for is you leave it on the floor and you let people come up to you and say, ‘We thank you for how hard you play this game.’ That’s all I tried to do. I just want to make these fans proud.”"

This was Darrell Armstrong.

There were plenty of eccentricities and stories that only added to his lure. His oversized, brightly colored suits he wore throughout the Magic’s run through the 1995 Playoffs. Even though he was a late addition and rarely played, he was ubiquitous on the bench meeting players at half court and cheering them on.

There were the stories of how he ate Hershey’s kisses at halftime and drank multiple cups of coffee with copious amounts of sugar to spark his energetic play.

Or the football helmet he kept in his locker to remind himself of his football roots, the place he credits for his toughness. It all added up to build his career.

He ascended to the starting lineup alongside Tracy McGrady, helping that team as its second-leading scorer for much of that run. He made the charge something appreciated among more than just coaches.

Nothing was ever handed to him. Plenty of coaches and people lifted him, as Armstrong recounted fighting back tears in the Amway Center hallway standing next to a pedestal with his name and number on it. He thanked them all.

But it was important to remember too that they only saw something special in him. He paved the way.

More from History

The call to enter the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame was expected, but still overwhelming for Armstrong. Magic CEO Alex Martins, who made the official call to Darrell Armstrong during the offseason, said Armstrong continued to thank him over and over.

"“He immediately got very emotional,” Martins said of his phone call telling Armstrong of his induction. “He must have said thank you a hundred times. I had to stop him and say, ‘You deserve this. You had a great career here’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you have guys who were first-round picks and hall of famers like Tracy McGrady and Shaquille O’Neal and one of the greatest players in franchise history in Nick Anderson.’ And I said, ‘You deserve to be in that company. You truly deserve this.'”"

In the end, he earned his place among franchise luminaries like Nick Anderson, Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway and Tracy McGrady in the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame.

Armstrong remains the most beloved player in Magic history.

He may not have been a draft pick or an All-Star, but he defined an era for the team. He defined the kind of players fans love.

It is hard to adequately memorialize these players. They sometimes get lost to history.

Not Armstrong, he is indelibly a part of the Magic’s history forever.

"“Fans like players who give 110 percent,” Anderson said before Armstrong’s Hall of Fame induction. “You’ve got to like a Darrell Armstrong. He was that guy when your chin was down, he’d walk up to you and pull your chin up, let’s go. That was Darrell Armstrong.”"

Next. Darrell Armstrong is a star who belongs to Orlando alone. dark

That was Darrell Armstrong.