5.27.96: The Day the Shaq & Penny Era Died at the Hands of Michael Jordan
“Unfortunately, there was a guy wearing No. 23 out there” – Brian Hill after Game 4 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals.
Every time I look at my stack of VHS tapes, full of every Orlando Magic/Shaq/Penny Hardaway highlight, half-time feature, interview and Sportscenter recap I came across between 1992-1996, I think about that horrible day of May 27th of 1996. That day in 1996 was the day a part of my childhood died. The day when the Penny and Shaq era died. An era that was supposed to be full of multiple NBA championships for the most dominant center and multi-dimensional point guard in the league. But thanks to the best shooting guard in the league — who was looking for revenge after losing to the Orlando Magic a year before — it ended with the sight of my favorite player walking, alone, off the court and to the lockers as a disappointed looking Penny stayed on the court to congratulate his opponents and a high-five giving Michael Jordan, who probably burned Penny’s hand since his was still hot from knocking down 16 of 23 shots for a game-high 45 points.
“It’s really sickening, because we are a better team than what we displayed,” Hardaway said after the 106-101 loss a. “Even though we had injuries and everything, it’s still hard to take and live with.”
In the Magic’s defense, this wasn’t your typical Jordan and Bulls either. This was the 72-win Bulls that would go on to win the first of three NBA championships between 96-98. Still, this was the Orlando Magic team that won 60 games without Shaq (thanks Matt Geiger!) for much of the first half of the regular season. This was the Orlando Magic team that was supposed to be looking for redemption after being swept by the Clutch City Rockets in the 95 NBA Finals. Again, this was the Magic team that was supposed to produce multiple championships with a lineup of Shaq, Penny, Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Horace Grant. But, after getting swept by Jordan and the Bulls on this day, the team and my dreams quickly fell apart.
This leads me to the date of July 18 1996 and a stack of VHS tapes from 1996-2004 and another Shaq-related story of redemption, championships and the falling out between two superstar teammates.