Writer-Palooza: Heart and Hustle is what lasts

Crossover Chronicles is a relatively new blog, so we decided it was a good idea to introduce you to the crew. We’re doing that in a new feature called “Writer-Palooza.”  For the next few days, we will feature one writer, introducing him to you via an original piece, his favorite basketball video, and a wildcard post on any topic that he wants.

Today we feature Philip Rossman-Reich. You can find him on Twitter here.

Evan Dunlap/Orlando Pinstriped Post

I am sure every franchise has its one team known not for its winning percentage but for the way they played. These teams are not the best in team history, but they get looked back on fondly, even reverentially.

These are the seasons selective memory decides to remember as much better than they actually were. These are the Heart and Hustle teams.

The 1999-2000 Magic were one of the first great tank jobs in the free agency era. The Magic knew the Anfernee Hardaway days were over and needed to move on. The franchise greedily eyed the free agency class of 2000 as its chosen path for rebuilding. With Grant Hill and Tim Duncan entering the market, Orlando saw a way to grab both and maybe, possibly, add a third rising star in Tracy McGrady.

It was a bold, unthought of before plan. Just completely unreal to even fathom.

The only catch was that the team would have to trade away everything and completely reset the decks. They would have to bring in only expiring contracts and have little carryover.

The team had to suck.

Everyone knew that the team was going to be bad. There was zero — might actually have been less than that — excitement about the team. The bigger story was Nick Anderson registering a complaint that his number was the only one taken by some of the new players (not that he cared, since he was traded to Sacramento). Yes, Chris Gatling did not wear the No. 25 as well as Nick.

If you looked at them on paper the 2000 Magic were horrible.

Their best player? Darrell Armstrong, a player who was more a spark plug and energy guy beforehand. The draft pick was a freshman from Duke named Corey Maggette, still unpolished potential more than anything else. Ben Wallace, an under-sized center whom the Celtics wanted to transform into a guard looked like the team’s starting center. An unproven and rookie head coach named Doc Rivers was leading this squad.

This was a rag-tag bunch that had no reason to even think about winning games on a nightly basis. They were all just placeholders for the free agent bonanza that was coming in the summer.

Something crazy happened. The team took on a persona of its own.

Branded “Heart & Hustle” by the marketing gurus and season ticket sales reps, the team took to that slogan and the first of captain Darrell Armstrong and became something really special. Orlando went 41-41 that year and fell a game short of making the Playoffs. For those that bothered to pack the Orlando Arena (or, TD Waterhouse Centre thanks to a mid-season  name change) were treated to one of the most memorable seasons in the franchise’s history.

People still talk reverentially about this team. It might be the fans’ favorite team in franchise history behind only the championship-contending teams in 1995, 1996, 2009 and 2010. This team just defied all expectations.

More importantly, you never had to question the team’s effort. They played hard every single night. And that is more what people paid to see.

What stunk most was that it was all so short lived. Wallace and an injured Chauncey Billups were traded for a hobbled but still young Grant Hill. Tim Duncan spurned the Magic and returned to San Antonio. Tracy McGrady blossomed into a star.

But until Dwight Howard came, no team embodied the kind of grit and determination the Heart and Hustle team had.

I am sure every franchise has a team like this. If they don’t, it is too bad. Because these teams are the ones that make it special to be a fan. The unexpected thrill of a .500 season and accomplishing something no one else thought your team could is what lasts with the fans.

Shirt info from Orlando Pinstriped Post.

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily