Top 5 what-if’s in Orlando Magic history
What If Doc Rivers allowed Tim Duncan’s family on the team plane?
It seems crazy to imagine a time or plane of existence where it was possible Tim Duncan would have ever worn an NBA jersey aside from the black and silver of the San Antonio Spurs. But believe it or not, in the free agency period of 2000 — the same period the Magic would obtain Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill — the Magic also were strong suitors for the Big Fundamental.
In fact, many thought it was a done deal.
The city had signs and billboards begging for Duncan to bring his talents to Orlando. The red carpet was rolled out everywhere in the Magic Kingdom in hopes of landing the future NBA legend. The organization even called in one of the city’s most famous residents in Tiger Woods to help recruit Tim Duncan during a lavish party on Disney’s campus.
Yes, just outside the happiest place on earth is where a member of the Magic organization would make a decision that fans and former players, especially McGrady, remain haunted by to this day.
In a moment that seemed to be small and quickly passing, allegedly had some of the most serious downstream effects in Magic — and frankly — NBA history.
Duncan’s then-girlfriend and now-ex-wife asked head coach Doc Rivers if family members were allowed to ride with the team on the team plane. A seemingly innocent question that Rivers would unfortunately respond to incorrectly.
He informed her this would not be permitted as only the team and front office members were allowed access to those flights and family would have to travel separately.
While never officially confirmed by Duncan or his brass themselves, this is the moment NBA fans, former Magic players and front office members alike believe changed everything.
Duncan took the weekend to consider his choice. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs got the last word. He flew to meet with Duncan in his home on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hall of Fame center David Robinson cut a Hawai’i vacation short to join the last-ditch recruiting pitch.
That proved enough to sway Duncan to stay in San Antonio. He re-signed with the Spurs and won four more championships. McGrady would never make it out of the first round in Orlando and to this day the Magic are still looking for their first-ever NBA Finals Championship.
What could have gone differently?
Put simply, Doc Rivers could have answered that question any other way and it might have been different. Allow family members on the plane, say that it is a rule that you are willing to revisit. Heck, just lie.
From those who were in attendance, it sounds like the energy shifted the second this question was answered by Doc Rivers. So, what if it was answered differently?
In an era of the NBA where the term “Big 3” was not commonplace, The Orlando Magic were close to embracing a trend that would become a hit in the NBA a decade later. Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady on paper would have immediately made the Magic into Finals contenders and a staple in the Eastern Conference playoff picture for years to come.
Even if Hill was never fully healthy (a reality Magic fans unfortunately did see play out in real time) the idea of McGradyand Duncan sharing the same lineup is a fascinating and exciting one.
Knowing that Tim Duncan would ultimately go on to win five NBA Finals while also carving out a career as potentially the best power forward the game has ever seen, it is hard to believe Duncan could not have found a path to a Finals series or two in Orlando, especially in the watered-down Eastern Conference.
Pairing his mistake-free, but sometimes less-than-exciting brand of basketball, with the high-flying and athletic Tracy McGrady would have had Orlando claiming one of the more captivating dynamic duos in the history of American pro sports.
Duncan likely would have brought a championship pedigree to the Magic brand and ended his career as one of the best, if not the best, Magic player of all time.
Instead, he did all that for San Antonio and is the sole reason Doc Rivers now probably lets players family members ride on the team plane — which he did when he won the title with the Boston Celtics in 2008.