In the Orlando Magic's 24-year history, they have had several players who were very much hyped as they were about to embark on their Magic career. I am going to go back and look at the Magic career of Shaquille O'Neal, one of the most-hyped players in the NBA as he was about to start his rookie year with the Magic.
Most NBA fans will remember O'Neal for the eight terrific years he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, as he, along with Kobe Bryant, helped lead the Lakers to three NBA championships, with Shaq being voted the Finals MVP those three times. O'Neal also won another championship ring with the 2006 Miami Heat. Not many people will remember about his contributions with the Magic, but the contributions he made in those four years helped turn the Magic into a league power during that time.
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Orlando had the number one overall draft pick in 1992, and it was basically a no-brainer that they select O'Neal, the 7-foor-1 behemoth from Louisiana State University. O'Neal had played three seasons at LSU, averaging over 27 points per game his sophomore year and over 24 points per game his junior year, while averaging over 14 rebounds both those seasons.
Shaq did not disappoint his rookie season of 1992-93 with Orlando. He was named 1993 NBA Rookie of the Year, and was a starter in the NBA All-Star Game, becoming the first rookie to start an All-Star Game since Michael Jordan in 1985. O'Neal averaged 23.4 points per game on 56.2 percent shooting, along with 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. The Magic finished with 41 wins, 20 more than the previous season, just missing out on a playoff berth.
As strong as his rookie numbers were, he would continue to improve on them. In 1993-94, O'Neal, along with rookie point guard Penny Hardaway, led the Magic to a 50-win season and their first playoff berth in team history. O'Neal averaged 29.3 points (second in the NBA) and 13.2 rebounds per game, on league-leading 59.9 percent shooting.
In 1994-95, O'Neal led the league in scoring, averaging 29.3 points per game, and finished second in MVP voting. Along with Hardaway and others, he helped lead the Magic to 57 wins and an Eastern Conference Championship before being swept in four games by the Houston Rockets in the Finals, the Magic's first appearance there.
In 1995-96, which turned out to be O'Neal's last season with the Magic, Orlando finished with a 60-22 record, despite O'Neal missing 28 games with injuries. Even though his numbers were down from his previous season, he still averaged an impressive 26.6 points per game along with 11 rebounds. The Magic were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by arguably the best team in NBA history, the Chicago Bulls.
It was on July 18, 1996, that O'Neal, a free-agent, moved on from Orlando and signed with the Lakers.
Here are some fun facts regarding Shaq's Magic career:
- O'Neal has eight career 30-point, 20-rebound games with the Magic.
- O'Neal has 21 career 40-point games with the Magic, including a 53-point game.
- On November 20th, 1993, O'Neal had an absolutely ridiculous game of 24 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocks against New Jersey. He is the only NBA player since at least 1985 to have a game of 20-plus points, 25-plus rebounds, and 12-plus blocks.
- O'Neal's 15 blocks in a game not only is a Magic record for most blocks in a game, but it ties for the most blocks by any player in an NBA game since at least 1985.
- O'Neal's free-throw shooting got progressively worse his four seasons in Orlando, going from 59.2 percent his rookie season to 48.7 percent in his final Magic season. Despite his struggles from the line, in two games he was a perfect 12-of-12 from the charity stripe, both times coming within a month of each other in 1994.
- O'Neal's overall Player Efficiency Rating of 26.6 in his four seasons with the Magic holds the Magic record for the highest career PER (minimum of 50 career games).
- O'Neal averaged 2.8 blocks per game in his Magic career, which is a team record.
- O'Neal is second in Magic team history with a 27.2 points per game average, is second in team history with 12.5 rebounds per game, and is second in team history with a 58.1 percent mark in field-goal shooting.
- In his 19-year career, O'Neal was 1-for-22 on 3-pointers, with his only make coming as a member of the Magic on February 16, 1996, at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Despite his awesome career numbers in his four years with the Magic, O'Neal is not remembered fondly by many Magic fans because of his abruptly leaving Orlando and signing as a free agent with the Lakers, and also because of his "big fish in a small pond" comment regarding how he saw himself in Orlando after signing with LA. Still, one cannot deny how much O'Neal lived up to and exceeded his hype coming out of college during his four years in Magic pinstripes.