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What If Tim Duncan Joined the Orlando Magic in 2000? Examining the NBA's Alternate History

Updated: Feb 12

What if Tim Duncan left the San Antonio Spurs for the Orlando Magic?

The landscape of the NBA changed dramatically during the summer of 2000. A year removed from their 4-1 series defeat of the New York Knicks for their first NBA title, the San Antonio Spurs had fallen from the NBA mountaintop but were still very much a title contender. Led by NBA Finals MVP and two-time All-Star Tim Duncan, the Spurs organization seemed to have the foundation set to become the next NBA dynasty. 

However, the Big Fundamental would set the basketball world ablaze when he announced that instead of re-signing with the Spurs, he would be joining a pair of young superstar free agents in Orlando to create a super team. 

The news sent shockwaves through the sports industry as few expected Duncan to leave the relatively subdued city of San Antonio for the faster, more lively beaches and nightlife of Orlando. Following the departure of Shaquille O’Neal in 1996, the Magic, although still a playoff team, had struggled to once again become a championship contender. With the arrival of Duncan, a new era of excitement (as much as Duncan can get excited) and hope would thrust the Magical Kingdom back into the spotlight and rank among championship contenders. 

Led by GM John Gabriel, the Magic’s front office worked tirelessly during the summer of 2000 to not only court Duncan but to present the reigning champ with an exciting outlook for the future and a pair of teammates in Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill that would complete the missing pieces for what many presumed to complete the championship puzzle. 

As Duncan, McGrady, and Hill pulled on the blue and white jersey of the Orlando Magic for the first time during their introductory press conference, fans would erupt with excitement, envisioning the possibilities of the multiple championships that lay ahead. 

With the regular season underway, Duncan’s skill and leadership, combined with McGrady’s athleticism and scoring and Hill’s poise quickly had the Magic sitting on the top of the Eastern Conference standings. 

What if Tim Duncan joined Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in Orlando?

Built off of a suffocating defense and unmatched offensive output, the Magic would battle the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks for Eastern Conference supremacy throughout the regular season. 

Despite their star-powered lineup, the Magic would be unable to hold on to the top seed as a determined Allen Iverson-led Sixers team clinched the number one ranking. With Duncan leading the charge, the second-seeded Magic quickly and easily sent their early-round opponents packing, setting up a much-anticipated showdown in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

In a battle of the top two seeds in the East, the Magic’s trio of stars found themselves locked in a fierce battle with Iveson and Dikembe Mutombo, a deadly combination of offensive and defense. Throughout the first six games of a series filled with drama and intensity, all of the stars had their opportunity to shine, delivering clutch performances on both ends of the court, leading to a much-anticipated Game 7. 

With the fate of the series hanging in the balance, Duncan proved why the Magic were willing to move heaven and earth to obtain his services, putting on a show of skill and determination, leading the Magic back to the NBA Finals. 

Awaiting Duncan and the Magic were familiar foes, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by the dynamic inside / outside duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. In one of the most eagerly anticipated championship series in recent memory, the 2000 NBA Finals was a battle for the ages filled with thrilling moments that captivated chat boards, water coolers, and locker rooms. 

Playing in their second back-to-back Game 7 series, the Magic would find themselves falling short, despite a magical performance from Duncan as the Lakers dynamic duo would not be denied their first NBA title. 

Knowing that they were just moments from achieving basketball’s ultimate glory, the Magic would return to the NBA Finals in 2001, once again facing the Lakers in what would become a modern-day version of the iconic Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry. While the championship parade was put on hold during Duncan’s first year in Orlando, the Magic would not be denied their first of multiple titles and celebrations at the Magical Kingdom during his time in Florida, etching his name into the record books as one of the greatest champions of all time. 

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