A former colleague of Michael Jordan says that Shaq and Penny’s 1996 playoff performance would have been different if he had been available.
Like Robert Horry and Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, a $35 million-dollar Bulls icon, is one of the luckiest basketball players in history.
Undoubtedly, the 6-foot-10 power forward put in a lot of effort to be chosen as the number 10 choice in the 1987 NBA Draft, which also produced icons of the game like David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller (11th pick), and a few others.
But for the Clemson forward, joining Pippen on the Chicago Bulls squad, which had already selected a superstar three years prior, was pure ecstasy.
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Grant departed the Bulls as a free agent after Jordan’s early retirement in 1993 and didn’t receive a big contract to join the Orlando Magic, who had just drafted a 7-foot-1 exceptional athlete who had the ability to accomplish things that had never been done before.
Horace Grant believes the Orlando Magic will defeat Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1996 without him getting hurt.
With Horace at four, Shaquille O’Neal at five, and youngster Anfernee Hardaway at guard, the Magic built a squad that could compete in the East without Jordan in the next season.
And even though MJ had made a recovery but was still in “baseball shape,” Grant recalls it like it was yesterday when he and his team went on to defeat the Bulls in the 1995 playoffs.
In the playoffs, he averaged 13.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game, but in 6 games against his previous team, he increased it to 18.0 points and 11.0 rebounds.
The four-time NBA champion recalled how it might have turned out in the 1996 playoffs if he hadn’t sustained an injury in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals when they faced the Bulls once more. He was speaking with Bill Simmons of The Ringer at the time.
Grant thought he and the Magic had a shot to defeat the Bulls
Evidently, Grant thought he and the Magic had a shot to defeat the Bulls, but as Simmons said, they would have lost regardless because MJ and company were focused on setting an NBA record that season by going 72-10.
Being swept by that club shouldn’t be considered a reason for shame, as they would later complete a third consecutive 3-peat after winning the championship.
If Shaq and Penny hadn’t had a falling out that season, it might have changed. How many championships they might have won is unknown. There must be more than two, Horace concludes.