How Blue Chips made the Orlando Magic

Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal made the Orlando Magic in 1995. (Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dan)
Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal made the Orlando Magic in 1995. (Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dan) /

The movie Blue Chips is revered as one of the best college basketball movies. Its making was legendary including the pair that would lead the Orlando Magic.

It was a moment made for movies because, well, it was a movie.

All the noise and semi-ethical recruiting (OK, it was definitely not ethical or within NCAA rules, which was kind of the point) washed away in the final moment of the game.

Nick Nolte’s Pete Bell is drawing up a play for his star-studded — and, yes, bought — team, the fictitious Western University Dolphins. The players on that court were anything but fictitious. The coach on the other sideline was Bob Knight, coaching a team of college star stand-ins for the cameras.

Butch McCrae held the ball at the top of the key waiting for big man Neon Boudeaux to spin from the foul line to the rim for a lob. He completed it masterfully laying it in as the buzzer sounded to give the “heroes” a one-point win over the movie’s No. 1 team, the Indiana Hoosiers.

If the players in that clip look familiar, it is because they are. McCrae was Anfernee Hardaway and Boudeaux was Shaquille O’Neal.

In the offseason before the Magic would move to trade for Anfernee Hardaway on draft night.

In fact, Hardaway would claim this movie made the Orlando Magic. In the pickup games the players — and they were players, not actors — Anfernee Hardaway made sure he was feeding Shaquille O’Neal the ball and worming his way into his head.

As Hardaway would tell it in the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary This Magic Moment, his agent told him to do this so O’Neal would advocate for the Magic to draft him. Orlando held the first overall pick in that draft.

Hardaway confirmed in a 25th anniversary oral history with Sports Illustrated he did indeed do his best to make O’Neal look good and boost his draft stock in the young center’s mind. Legendary coach Pete Newell even told Shaquille O’Neal he needed Anfernee Hardaway on his team.

The plan seemed to work.

Playing with Hardaway and seeing Hardaway feed him the ball constantly and consistently did indeed work its way into O’Neal’s head, as O’Neal would say in the movie and in an interview he and Hardaway did with GQ before the movie’s release. He told the Magic to take a hard look at the 6-foot-7 point guard from the Memphis State Tigers.

The Magic were certainly doing their homework. As Pat Williams explained in that documentary too, the team was already thinking about pairing up their promising young big man with a point guard rather than going with a twin-tower lineup featuring Chris Webber. They certainly wanted Hardaway too.

Legend has it that Orlando had a late workout with Hardaway where he went up against the Magic’s regulars. He routed Donald Royal and Anthony Bowie, the team’s two best perimeter defenders, and the Magic were convinced to take him.

It was just a matter of extracting as much as possible from the Golden State Warriors, who wanted desperately to move up two spots and take Webber.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Who is to say whether this would have happened without the two filming Blue Chips together? The Magic certainly understood that a promising young point guard would work well with their behemoth center.

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But this movie was one of the first times the two would play together and see just how well they worked on the floor.

It created at least some movie magic.

Maybe this was the point of the movie. The magic of the sport and the game mattered far more than how the whole thing got built up.

The morality play of the film did not matter in the shadow of watching great basketball.

At the end of the day, the game takes over. Nobody really blames the kids for taking advantage of a broken system full of money.

In the end, Nolte’s character admits to his wrongdoing and leaves the game. The players move on and the program is left behind.

To many, Blue Chips is one of the best basketball movies and best movies about college basketball ever made. As Patrick Schmidt of FanSided puts it, it is the perfect college basketball movie to tide us over without March Madness this year.

It expertly shined a light on a system that was even then pretty broken when it came to providing players and money paid under the table to elite athletes. It was a movie about temptation, glory and ambition and the cost of them all, exposing the underbelly of a beautiful game while still letting the game shine

Its production was legendary for stories not just about the O’Neal and Hardaway pairing, but plenty of other good tidbits like Knight’s curmudgeonly coaching in the finale.

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And the movie might have very well made the Orlando Magic as we knew them in the late 1990s.