Orlando Magic’s best can claim series victories over NBA GOATs

As we revisit the Orlando Magic's series win over the Chicago Bulls, defeating Michael Jordan stands the test of history. (Mandatory Credit: Jonathan)
As we revisit the Orlando Magic's series win over the Chicago Bulls, defeating Michael Jordan stands the test of history. (Mandatory Credit: Jonathan) /

With the debate about who is or will be the greatest player of all-time, we take a look at which Orlando Magic team was better suited to win, the year they beat the best player of their era.

It was not just the physicality of the 1990’s that drew fans to the seats.

It was a factor for sure. But, in reality, people wanted to see the star from their team on the court putting the ball in the hoop on a consistent basis.

It was all about the star power as the league slowly grew its marketing wing. The style of play in the NBA featured the best individual players going one-on-one at displaying their athleticism in these individual tests.

There were not many stars or dynamic duos in the league bigger than the Orlando Magic’s Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway at the time. The two were a match made in heaven in the eyes of many fans residing in Central Florida — often called the next generation of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a big playmaking point guard paired with the next great center in the league.

Standing in their way was the star of all stars — Michael Jordan.

In the 1990s, every team had to measure up to him. And almost all of them failed.

Jordan’s story is getting lionized in The Last Dance as it shows his rise to put together one of the most dominant dynasties in league history in the Chicago Bulls. His six titles in eight seasons still stands the test of time as a barometer of greatness.

That did not stop the 1995 Orlando Magic from competing at a high level and winning. The 1995 Magic became the last team to defeat Jordan in a playoff series, a marker they hold over those championship Bulls even as the Bulls returned the favor with a sweep in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals.

As a matter of fact, the Magic beat Michael Jordan on his home floor in Game 6 behind a rousing 14-0 run and lifted former Bulls teammate Horace Grant on top of their shoulders as they walked off of the court in the United Center.

You can watch that game again on Saturday on FOX Sports Florida as part of their Magic Classics series.

It was a monumental win for the young franchise, setting the table for their appearance in the 1995 NBA Finals.

Some people speculated Jordan’s lack of games played during the regular season (he returned from his baseball sabbatical and played the final 17 games of the season) was the only reason the young Magic beat the Bulls.

Chicago entered the series as the heavy favorite. Orlando needed the Steal in Game 1 to defeat the Bulls, another stirring comeback in Game 3 to win and then finally a wild run with both Anfernee Hardaway and Horace Grant on the bench to finish things off in Game 6. All the while, Jordan looked rusty in the biggest moments. He turned the ball over twice at the end of Game 1 and had a critical turnover at the end of Game 3.

The Bulls as a team could not keep up with the younger Magic team. Jordan did plenty to carry Chicago through the series — averaging 31.0 points per game in the series, but his 4.0 turnovers per game cost the team in the end. They all seemed to come at the biggest moments.

Game 6 was arguably one of the best moments for Magic fans. Their team beat the best player to ever lace them up in his own house. They hold that moniker of the last team to defeat Jordan’s Bulls forever.

Jordan showed his appreciation of the Magic’s celebration and went on a tear as the Bulls swept the Magic in disrespectful fashion in the 1996 NBA Eastern Conference Finals after a 72-10 regular season. The Bulls began their 3-peat and the Magic began to disassemble as Shaquille O’Neal left the team in free agency that summer.

In many ways that victory in 1995 over Michael Jordan may be thought to be a better win than the one Finals victory the Magic earned over the 2009 Los Angeles Lakers led by Kobe Bryant.

The Magic may not have won a title yet, but they have been part of some of the most essential stories in NBA history — from Jordan’s redemption to Bryant’s first title without O’Neal.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That 2009 Finals win was a great win for a young Magic team led by Dwight Howard, who at the time was considered the best center in the NBA. It is one of the most precious memories in Magic history.

To even get to that point Dwight Howard and company had to defeat LeBron James and a heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers team. Yes, the Magic derailed two of the best players in the league’s history — perhaps the two best players in the league’s history.

Howard is one of the reasons NBA fans never saw James facing Bryant in a Finals matchup. Orlando dominated the six-game series with Cleveland in 2009 despite James’ best efforts — in addition to that famous Game 2 buzzer beat, James averaged 38.5 points per game, 8.5 assists per game and 8.0 rebounds per game.

The Magic stole game one from LeBron James, coming back from 20 points down before Rashard Lewis gave the team the lead with less than five seconds left, and never looked back.

Even though the Magic have advanced to the Finals. Defeating Jordan’s Bulls in the second round in 1995 and defeating James’ Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals are the two greatest series victories in Magic history.

The Magic’s two title teams are often compared against each other. Fans are certainly divided on which team was better in many ways.

The 1995 team dominated the entire season, winning the top seed and going through growing pains throughout the playoffs, but brushing aside immaturity until the end. The 2009 team almost caught everyone by surprise. But they revolutionized the league with their 3-point heavy attack.

Preference between the teams will depend on what type of basketball you like to watch.

If you like to see a team dominated by two superstars then you probably would choose the 1995  Magic. But if you like to see a superstar player surrounded by shooters playing more of a sharing style of basketball then you may choose the 2009 Magic.

The 2009 Magic were third in the league in defensive rating and fourth in the NBA in offensive rating, so they were top five on both sides of the ball.

The 1995 Magic were 12th in the league in defensive rating and third in the NBA in offensive rating. So statistically, they were not better as a defensive team and slightly better as an offensive group.

It all comes down to style, pace and poise. They say styles makes fights so it all depends on how you want destroy your opponent.

The 2009 Orlando Magic destroyed their opponent by dominating the paint and shooting multiple three’s on the perimeter as well as the 1995 team did.

On January 13, 2009, the Magic set an NBA record after making 23 3-pointers in a game against the Sacramento Kings. A game in which J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard LewisCourtney Lee and Jameer Nelson lit up ARCO Arena.

The 1995 Magic could shoot as well and in Game 3 in 1995, Nick Anderson had 22 points, six rebounds, three steals and three 3-pointers in the momentum-swinging Game 3.

The 3-point line was not used much in the mid-1990s. But the Magic’s style of using fast breaks and trying to spread the floor around O’Neal was at least the beginnings of what the NBA would become in the next 15 years.

Fans usually come down on the side of the 1995 team. It has as much sentimental value and all the star power that it could want — Nick Anderson was not a bad third option either. O’Neal was a force the league had never seen before and was forcing the game to modernize quickly with his athleticism, size and speed.

Defeating James’ Cavaliers in 2009 was a surprise. But the Magic in 2009 had been building for several years. They were the worst nightmare matchup for the Cavaliers and they figured it out quickly. Cleveland could not match their size.

Defeating Jordan’s Bulls in 1995 was just as much a surprise, even if it feels inevitable now. The Magic had to scrap and claw against an experienced Bulls team. That upset win was as much about the Magic realizing their full potential as anything else.

From that point on, Orlando had the supreme confidence to win and probably should have won the Finals in 1995.

dark. Next. What we learned from Orlando Magic Madness 2020

More than anything else, holding that playoff win over Jordan and the Bulls is something Magic fans will forever be able to brag about.