Our Orlando Magic Madness tournament reaches the final as we see a battle between the Orlando Magic’s Hall of Famers to determine who is best.
We have made it to the final of our Orlando Magic Madness tournament.
We endeavored to create a 64-player tournament to determine both the best Magic player of all time mixed in with a dash of popularity. Once the entire tournament is done, we will go back and look at the lessons.
Inevitably, it was the final four we were most interested in.
In Magic history, there is a clear top four that have put themselves above everyone else in Magic history. There is a nice group of players beneath them, but they are not good enough to touch the guys in the top four — all four potential Hall of Famers if they had all stayed healthy.
Those are the four that ultimately matter in Magic history.
I put Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal in the same region, so they met up in the round of eight. O’Neal edged out Hardaway 55.5-45.5, a statement of both players’ impact and Hardaway’s enduring popularity.
Shaquille O’Neal defeated Jameer Nelson in the semifinals to get to the championship round. His presence, just like his presence over everything in Magic history, seemed inevitable.
But this is the time for serious discussion.
Based on playoff success, Howard is the runaway winner. Howard oversaw the most successful stretch in Magic history — six straight Playoffs, two straight conference finals, one NBA Finals with the team’s only Finals win and three straight years getting out of the first round. He had all the individual accolades too with three straight Defensive Player of the Year Awards and several years as the league’s leading vote-getter in All-Star voting.
McGrady has his share of popularity too.
He entered the Hall of Fame and remains beloved among Magic fans. He was the greatest perimeter scorer in team history, a spot that inevitably has more popularity than the big guys that have dotted Magic history. And unlike the other three, his departure was a lot more understandable and a bit less acrimonious (McGrady was still roundly booed every time he touched the ball in his first game back).
The general thought is Howard for his longevity and playoff success is the better player in Magic history. But our poll disagrees.
McGrady routed Howard and current popularity definitely played a major role. That was the case throughout the tournament.
Any time anybody mentions Howard on Magic twitter, they immediately get angry. People get offended at the notion of Howard entering the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame (which will definitely happen when he and the team are ready after he retires) or <gasp> retiring his jersey (the Magic will do this whenever they start retiring jerseys).
He is undoubtedly on the Mt. Rushmore of Magic history. Along with McGrady.
But fans are not ready to forgive Howard for his messy exit that sent the entire franchise into a tailspin that took seven years to get out of. They will forgive him eventually — I know some will not, but O’Neal was forgiven, so too will Howard. But that time is not now.
It is not surprising then to see McGrady advance. And it is creating a debate that Magic fans probably have never really had that it is time to have now.
What happens when you pit the two hall of famers — the only two Magic players in the Basketball Hall of Fame — against each other? Who wins on both points and popularity.
Our final is Tracy McGrady vs. Shaquille O’Neal.
Tale of the Tape
It is notoriously difficult to make direct comparisons between post players and perimeter players. In many ways, this debate should end there. Shaquille O’Neal is the best post player in Magic history and Tracy McGrady the best perimeter player in Magic history.
There is not much debate in that.
These two players are the most singular offensive forces in Magic history. In four seasons in Orlando, O’Neal averaged 27.2 points per game and McGrady averaged 28.1 points per game. O’Neal won the scoring title in 1995 with 29.3 points per game, McGrady won the scoring title in 2003 and 2004 with 32.1 points per game and 28.0 points per game.
McGrady has the edge as the all-time leader in scoring average in Magic history and the dual scoring titles.
But both players were dominant forces for their respective teams. Their scoring records dominate all of the Magic’s history books — top two in scoring average, two of the top three in win shares per 48 minutes (Ryan Anderson is second), top two in Box Plus-Minus, top two in Offensive Box Plus-Minus, the top seven individual scoring seasons in franchise history and pretty much every individual game scoring record. Not to mention all the backboards they shattered (OK, that is only O’Neal, but McGrady threw his share off the backboard in his career).
They were both consistently in the MVP award discussion — O’Neal finishing as high as second in 1995 and McGrady finishing as high as fourth in 2002. And they were both All-NBA players — O’Neal made the second team in 1995 and third team in 1994 and 1996, McGrady finished first in 2002 and 2003 and second in 2001 and 2004.
Even when the Magic were terrible, McGrady remained one of the best players in the league.
They both also dramatically stepped their games up in the playoffs.
In 36 playoff games, O’Neal averaged 25.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. During the Magic’s 1995 Finals run, O’Neal averaged 25.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.
McGrady, carrying the Magic into the playoffs in three seasons, averaged 32.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in 15 playoffs games. He has put in some of the most impressive playoff performances in Magic history, even in series defeat.
These two are titans among Magic players and what they did for the franchise.
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Shaquille O’Neal and Tracy McGrady undoubtedly have built themselves strong individual legacies and put up incredible numbers throughout their entire career and especially in their time with the Orlando Magic.
To some extent, both players failed to live up to the promise of their careers.
O’Neal brought the team to the 1995 Finals. But the Houston Rockets swept the Orlando Magic out of the Finals and the young team seemed to lose its innocence. They then ran into the buzz saw of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. O’Neal was gone that summer as salaries exploded and the Magic got left behind before they understood what was going on.
McGrady never got out of the first round. Grant Hill’s constant injuries saddled his team with a weight that not even Tracy McGrady could lift. The Magic seemed to be piecing their rosters together each year waiting for Hill to get healthy.
He left essentially because the team bottomed out and he was tired of scraping at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. He needed to be competing for championships as one of the five best players in the league.
McGrady never got that elsewhere. Injuries eventually claimed his career. O’Neal, of course, went on to become a four-time champion and one of the most dominant forces in NBA history.
Both players were dominant forces for the Magic, defining their own eras in team history.
Even if they never fully lived up to the team potential their talent created.
Personally for me, Tracy McGrady was the player that helped me really understand basketball. I was still in elementary school when Shaquille O’Neal was dominating and I appreciated the winning and the pure dominance of his game, but I did not understand what was going on. McGrady was my guy in my formative years.
For the so-called “Magic Generation” — a free-hand name the Magic unsuccessfully trotted out one year to describe Orlando residents born in the team’s early years who would become the team’s first homegrown fans — I am sure they feel the same way about McGrady.
He was a transcendent talent that made even watching 41-41 teams exciting every night. He made the 2004 21-61 season exciting because he seemingly could do anything. Scoring is exciting and enthralling. There is no other way to describe it.
But there is still only one figure who casts a shadow over the entire franchise. His impact is seen in every aspect of the organization — from the measuring stick every team has to live up to and the way the franchise seemingly makes decisions.
If there is any argument for O’Neal to be the best player in Magic history, it is here.
He set the standard for every Magic team and player that came after him. Only few have come close to getting mentioned in the same breath — Dwight Howard and Tracy McGrady among team. Only two teams in Magic history have come close to measuring up to the standard he set — the 2009 and 2010 Magic.
More than that, the whole Dwightmare that led to Howard’s extreme unpopularity was seemingly caused by the Magic’s determination not to lose another generational center without a trade like they did with O’Neal.
Culturally, the Magic became relevant and are still pretty relevant because of memories of O’Neal. His trip to London in 1992 with the Magic for a pair of exhibition games is at least part of why the Magic have a healthy fan based in the United Kingdom.
He made the Magic an international brand. There is nothing to replace that.
O’Neal was not just a powerful force on the court for the Magic, he was the most powerful force off it too.
My Pick: Shaquille O’Neal
We will begin voting Thursday morning and it will last two days! Vote on Twitter @OMagicDaily and share with us your reasons for who should win our #MagicMadness tournament.