Often slept on in the great era of 1990s basketball was a young team lead by two freakishly athletic All-Stars.
When most fans think of the the NBA during the 1990s, the first thoughts that come to mind are Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. While there’s no denying the greatness of that team, people often neglect a few of the other great teams of the 1990s. There was the Utah Jazz led by John Stockton, Karl Malone, and legendary head coach Jerry Sloan. The Houston Rockets were led by Hakeem Olajuwon. There’s also the New York Knicks, who, ed by future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, made it to the NBA Finals in 1994. One sometimes forgotten team that stands out from the crowd, and rivaled the Bulls, was the Orlando Magic. The talented team was lead by two young athletes who go buy the names of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Many people know Shaq from his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he played alongside Kobe Bryant and won 3 championships. His time with the Magic is often overlooked. Shaq and Penny dominated the Eastern Conference, and rivalved the Bulls for the title of best team in the Eastern Conference.
One of the greatest “what ifs” in sports will definitely always be, “what if Shaq had stayed with Orlando?” Would the duo of Shaq and Penny have brought a championship to the city? We will never know. O’Neal did experience a significant amount of success during his career after he left the Magic, winning 3 champions with the Lakers and one with the Miami Heat. Along with winning Rookie of the year in 1993, an MVP award in 2000, and receiving multiple All-Star selections, Shaq was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. Hardaway also experienced modest success as well. He was a 4x All-Star, and an Olympic Gold Medalist in 1996. If it was not for a string of injuries, he would’ve been able to accomplish so much more.
ESPN Films: This Magic Moment was released in 2016 and is directed by Gentry Kirby and Erin Leyden. The documentary follows Shaq and Penny in the present day as they reminisce about their professional basketball careers. More specifically they focus on their time together on the Orlando Magic in the 1990s. The pair discusses their ups and downs, and everything in between. The Magic were a young team, since the franchise was only founded in 1989. Drafting Shaq out of LSU with the first overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft was a huge milestone. He led the team to a 41-41 record and was voted an All-Star in his first season. The Magic then traded for Penny Hardaway during the 1993 NBA Draft. Together, the duo led the team to 50 wins and to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Orlando would continue to experience a variety of success during the 1990s. They acquired All-Star forward Horace Grant in free agency. During the 1994-95 NBA Playoffs, the Magic even beat Michael Jordan and the Bulls on route to their first ever NBA Finals appearance. Despite eventually being swept by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in the Finals, the season was a huge success. The future of the franchise looked bright, however, after the 1995-96 season, Shaq left in free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq’s time with the Magic didn’t exactly have a honeymoon feeling to it ultimately. There was much disagreement amongst the organization and between Shaq and Penny. The complicated relationship between the duo becomes the centerpiece of this film.
This Magic Moment gets a lot of things right. For one, it does a fantastic job of telling the story. With Shaq and Penny as the main focus, it gives you an entirely new perspective from a narrative point of view. It’s one thing to have reporters and analysts tell you things. While that does to a decent job, and this film does interview a few of them, it’s completely different to have those actually involved in the story tell you what really happened. A major issue within the film centers around Shaq leaving for Los Angeles during free agency. When he left, the magic essentially left from Orlando. The Magic failed to make it to the Finals ever again, and struggled to make the playoffs as well. Hardaway struggled with injuries that caused him to miss a huge portion of the 1997-98 season. The organization did what they could to try and attempt to get star talent, but nothing compared to what they had with the dynamic duo of Shaq and Penny. To some it up perfectly, as O’Neal says in the film, “We were Shaq and Kobe before Shaq and Kobe.”
What else works in this films favor is the interactions between Shaq and Penny during the present day scenes. The two are sitting down together reminiscing on their playing days. What really stands out with this cinematic approach is just how casual and relaxing the conversation feels. It’s heartwarming to see two old friends coming together years later to talk about their history. They put all their issues and differences behind them and together, they tell a beautiful story of failure and triumph. We forget that at the end of the day, athletes are people too. They experience the same range of emotions that we do, and deal with issues that us regular people do as well. What Shaq and Penny went through during their careers wasn’t always smooth sailing. This Magic Moment did an amazing job of helping us get a glimpse into that life.
With the 2018-19 NBA season approaching this week, fans everywhere are eagerly anticipating what’s to come. Where will Lebron James take the Lakers? Will the Warriors 3-peat? Will the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers take the Eastern Conference? These are just a few of the many interesting headlines going into the season. With so much attention on the star studded Warriors roster, fans may overlook some of the young and talented teams in the league. The Phoenix Suns have two potential future All-Stars in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton; could they be the next Shaq and Penny? Only time can really tell. One thing is for sure though, this season is going to be exciting. If you’re in the mood to get hyped up for this upcoming season, check out ESPN Films: This Magic Moment!
Written by Matt