Orlando Magic, Michael Jordan brought the best out of each other

For much of the Orlando Magic's history, they found a way to upset Michael Jordan and score some big victories. (Photo by TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)
For much of the Orlando Magic's history, they found a way to upset Michael Jordan and score some big victories. (Photo by TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic may not have played a big role in Michael Jordan’s career. But Jordan and the Magic often brought the best of each other.

It is the most memorable and most important moment in Orlando Magic history.

The Orlando Magic entered Game 1 of their second round series with the Chicago Bulls in 1995 as underdogs despite being the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Who would dare pick the young and unproven Magic over the might of Michael Jordan, already not just a media and marketing darling but already considered the best player in NBA history (or well on his way)?

This was a series that was present vs. the future. And the present was expected to win. The Magic were not supposed to be ready.

They were probably feeling right when the Magic trailed by one with one minute to play. The Bulls were about to take homecourt advantage away from the Magic and the ball was in Michael Jordan’s hands.

Michael Jordan lost Nick Anderson for a brief moment, getting by him but trying to slow down to take the foul, avoid any traps the Magic had laid or take the foul. He was not casual with the ball, but he was aware. Nick Anderson had a reputation as a solid defender, giving Michael Jordan plenty of problems with his size and physicality.

Jordan looked over one shoulder and was able to avoid Anderson. He looked over the other and lost the Magic guard. The rest is etched in Magic history.

Anderson poked the ball away from Jordan straight to Anfernee Hardaway. He quickly started the break, feeding it to Horace Grant for the go-ahead dunk. The Magic handed Jordan a playoff failure, exceptionally rare in the 1990s.

Jordan is a singular figure in NBA history. The series had meaning simply because of who the Magic beat — just like their 2009 Eastern Conference Finals win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will maintain historical meaning.

He was the star that drove the NBA from promising young league into a multinational business and basketball into the second most popular sport in the world. He was the thorn in many promising team’s side throughout the 1990s — including the Magic.

In so many ways, every team has a story about how Jordan dominated them. Just as they might have a story about the time they beat Jordan, probably the greatest player of all time.

That is what Jordan does.

All those stories will come together for sure in the upcoming ESPN documentary The Last Dance, which will use the Bulls’ final title run in 1998 to tell Jordan’s story in detail.

Undoubtedly, the Magic will play a role. The loss in 1995 brought the best out of Jordan just as Jordan brought the best out of the Magic so many times.

The back-and-forth series in 1995 ended with the Magic going on a 12-0 run to end Game 6 and the young team hoisting Horace Grant on their shoulders to celebrate vanquishing his former team. That series was proof the Magic were ready to contend and not merely the future of the league.

Of course, that moment would prove prescient. Jordan never forgets a slight. And seeing Grant lifted on his teammates’ shoulders celebrating was definitely something Jordan would remember. Even Grant knew the exuberant, youthful celebration might be a mistake to hurt them down the road.

Jordan got his revenge the next year, averaging 29.5 points per game and making 52.0-percent of his shots in a four-game sweep of a suddenly injury-depleted Magic.

Orlando broke up after that and the transition from Jordan’s reign over the East to the Magic’s reign never happened. This mini-rivalry petered out as quickly as it showed promise of starting.

Almost every other franchise — certainly in the Eastern Conference — probably has stories of how Jordan beat them or kept them from their potential. After Jordan conquered the Detroit Pistons, the New York Knicks could never overcome them. Then came the Magic. Then the Indiana Pacers. And plenty of other would-be contenders fell to the wayside.

Orlando was one the team though that got him once. The only team who could claim that after 1991.

That 1995 series represented his last playoff defeat in his career. Despite returning to basketball midway through that season, it felt like Jordan was all the way back when that series began. The league could have had that rivalry.

But it was not Jordan’s only memorable moment against the Magic. Nor was it the Magic’s only memorable win over Jordan.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Jordan averaged 29.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in 33 career games against the Magic. His splits are dotted with impressive and seemingly unreal score lines like these. The amazing was commonplace for Jordan.

Included in those games were a 64-point game in 1993, two 50-point games and seven 40-point games. Jordan had some absolutely stellar performances against Orlando. And especially in that 1996 series, he unleashed his full fury.

But the Magic got their licks in too.

In that 64-point game on Jan. 16, 1993, Nick Anderson hit a 3-pointer near the end of regulation to force overtime. Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic did the rest with 29 points to score the upset win over the defending champions on the road. It was a battle that truly previewed how the league was changing and the one-day titan that would stand to challenge Jordan a few years later, albeit briefly.

In the team’s first matchup with the Bulls at the Orlando Arena, Jordan scored 52 points to go with seven assists. But Otis Smith hit a driving layup in the dying seconds to give the 18-win Magic a win. This game will re-air April 25 at 6 p.m. on FOX Sports Florida.

Later that year, wearing a No. 12 jersey after his No. 23 was stolen, Jordan scored 49 points. But the Magic won the game in overtime, using a 14-0 run stretching from the end of regulation to overtime.

There are not many teams that could claim so many late-game triumphs over Jordan. There are probably not many teams who could claim victories in Jordan’s three top-scoring games against them too.

These games were relative blips on Jordan’s radar. They are not the defining games of his career — his 64-point game is often replayed on NBATV, including last week.

The only loss that really stung Jordan and impacted his legacy was that series loss in the 1995 Playoffs. It will surely get some examination during The Last Dance even though the Magic’s window had closed with Shaquille O’Neal leaving for Los Angeles — Michael Jordan scored 25 points in a December loss in Orlando, the Magic’s only win over the Bulls during the 1998 season.

That proved to be a motivator in Jordan leading the Bulls to the 72-10 assault, a sweep of the Magic in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals and the 1996 NBA championship.

But throughout Jordan’s career, the Magic demanded Jordan’s best to beat them. And the Magic often gave their best to beat him.

Next. The 10 greatest moments in Orlando Magic history. dark

It may not have played a huge part in Jordan’s larger story. But Jordan has wrapped himself around Magic history as a measuring stick the team often rose to challenge.