The Orlando Magic are not the team everyone usually thinks of when it comes to Christmas Day.
That day is reserved for the marquee players in the NBA and the marquee teams. These are the players and teams the league wants to feature most. You know you have a team that is not only a contender but important to selling to the league when you show up on Christmas Day.
It has been a long time since the Magic were any of that. But there were plenty of times when the Magic were part of the showcase day on the NBA calendar.
Like during Shaquille O'Neal's second year when the Orlando Magic made their Christmas Day debut in Chicago against the Chicago Bulls in a 95-93 loss. O'Neal had 20 points and 11 rebounds in his debut on this massive stage on the way to the Magic's first playoff berth.
Or in 1995 when the Magic got a measure of vengeance agianst the Houston Rockets thanks to an Anfernee Hardaway game-winning shot with 0.4 seconds left.
Or in 2003 when Tracy McGrady got the honors of welcoming a rookie LeBron James to the league with a 41-point, 11-assist performance in an overtime win for the Magic. McGrady and the Magic played on Christmas three times in his four seasons in Orlando.
Or Dwight Howard's Christmas debut in 2008 in a 20-point win over the New Orleans Hornets where Howard scored 12 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a sloppy, defensive-minded noon tip-off at Amway Arena. The Orlando Magic would return to Christmas in 2009 (a win over the Boston Celtics), 2010 (another win over the Celtics) and 2011 (a season-opening loss at Oklahoma City).
Quite clearly for the Magic to get their Christmas Day opportunity, they need a superstar player and to be relevant in the title picture.
That day is coming a lot sooner than we all think.
Paolo Banchero is not getting enough national buzz for how well he and the Magic are playing to start this year. The second-year forward appears to be on track to make his first All-Star appearance and the Magic are on track to make the playoffs for the first time since 2020.
The league might be sleeping on the Magic -- they have just one national TV appearance coming up in February -- and Banchero in general -- has there been a number one pick to average 20.0 points per game in his rookie season and launch into an All-Star bid in his second year with less national buzz?
But that is going to change soon.
Orlando may not be a title contender yet. But this young team is putting itself in the playoff conversation very quickly.
The Magic are not likely a Christmas Day team in 2024. Not unless the team makes a surprise run through the playoffs or Banchero drops some big games in the postseason on a big national stage. The league does not think the Magic can bank TV ratings quite yet -- not that they have tried.
Asking coach Jamahl Mosley about the prospect of playing on Christmas, he seemed like he would prefer to spend the day with family -- in fact, Orlando flew back home from Indianapolis on Saturday night to spend Sunday and Monday at home before going back to Washington, D.C. for Tuesday's game.
Still, playing on Christmas is a reward and recognition that your team is one of the best teams in the league. That is putting your best foot forward.
Orlando is going to need a boost to get on Christmas Day. But there are still plenty of intriguing matchups to get the team going and put the team on the national stage. And very clearly soon the Magic are going to be too difficult to ignore.
Orlando will do its part and put up more wins and make the playoffs this year. Paolo Banchero and quite possibly Franz Wagner will be in the All-Star conversation -- there are going to be a lot of people who will be surprised with how close the Magic are already to placing two players on the All-Star team.
So who should the NBA pair the Magic with for Christmas Day 2024? We already have a few ideas.