Sometimes when you watch a documentary
Sweet, sweet nostalgia
For those of you who haven't watched This Magic Moment, a documentary on the early to mid 1990's Orlando Magic with Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway ... you're missing out on pure, smile inducing, memory walking, ultimate nostalgia about a wacky, fun time in the NBA. Orlando-era Shaq was something really fun and it was great re-living a time that I WISH I fully appreciated.
Peak Shaq was quick, strong, smart and physically dominant. His Orlando years were amazing for those that never saw it. Even this highlight package doesn't do it justice.
Additionally Sports Illustrated released a mini-documentary about the friendship between Alonzo Mourning and my personal favorite center from that era, Patrick Ewing. Watch it right here Patrick and Zo. This really made the nostalgia go into hyperdrive. An era that, mostl likely, will NEVER happen again. Ever. It was a moment in time where the rules of the game and the talent that came in met for really what was the golden era of the NBA big man.
As I said, Ewing was my favorite center of the era (with due respect to former Denver Nuggets player Dikembe Mutombo who was definitely my second favorite). His mid-range and sweet feet (with the best up and under move that I've ever seen) were plenty of reasons why David Stern (allegedly, never proven) rigged the 1985 Lottery so his New York Knicks could select him.
Here are some great Ewing highlights
Ultimately Ewing never won an NBA Title coming up against the Michael Jordan had his early Chicago Bulls titles. He came close in wacky 1994 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets (a missed John Starks shot in Game 6 away from winning the series). That series featured another legend, Hakeem Olajuwon who's fabled Dream Shake was a hallmark of the 1980's through the 1990's. One of the most unstoppable post moves in the history of the NBA
It's all nostalgia though. I've found that people tend to respond to the era of basketball when they "came of age". Mine was specifically the early to mid-90's. It gets lumped in with that ridiculous sludgy, awful basketball from the late 90's and early 2000's post-Jordan era. That's not fair. In this era of the 1990's we saw great playoff series between the Phoenix Suns and Seattle Supersonics (1993 Western Conference Finals). Knicks vs Bulls and even the Indiana Pacers. Of course the famous Nuggets vs Sonics series from 1994. There was tons of it and I'm extremely biased in my point of view. Still though...
As I was wrapping up this column I remembered David Robinson's 71 point game against the Los Angeles Clippers in 1994. Now THERE is a big man of the 90's who would potentially thrive in today's NBA. At his peak the Admiral was a face the basket, freakishly athletic basketball talent. Someone who could take you to the rim with unbelievable quickness and force the issue. Truly a monster who won the NBA MVP in 1995.
Also, we can't forget our own Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Rik Smits and many others that dominated the era.
Now is the era of guards. Players like Stephan Curry and Damian Lillard are the new "centers" of the league. There are some big men who are intriguing (particularly Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and our own Nikola Jokic) but the back to the basket era is over. A new form of big man is in the league that features front facing athleticism (think Hassan Whiteside and DeAndre Jordan) that features shot blocking and put backs over feature offense.
Regardless, this is the evolution of the game. Today, we look back on a time where big men dominated and their skills were celebrated.