Shaquille O'Neal changed the fortunes of the Orlando Magic on his arrival in 1992 as the number 1 overall pick. As a rookie, he took a team that had won just 21 games in 1991-92 to 41 wins and they made it to the playoffs the following year after O'Neal led the way by averaging nearly 30 points per game.
A scoring title and a trip to the NBA Finals followed in 1995, but the Magic would end up getting swept by the Houston Rockets. Despite the manner of that Finals defeat, there was still plenty of cause for optimism as Shaq and Penny Hardaway looked set to be one of the NBA's best duos for the years to come. They would make it to the Conference Finals in 1996, but faced the 72-win Bulls led by Michael Jordan and would get swept.
O'Neal was a free agent that summer and he wanted to get paid like the superstar he was, but the Magic were hesitant and their fans weren't too pleased with Shaq's demands, either. For them, the team had been swept out of the playoffs the last three seasons, and when the Orlando Sentinel put out a poll asking if they wanted the team to offer O'Neal the kind of deal he wanted, their response was pretty definitive.
Shaq, who at the time was with Team USA, saw the response and was, in all likelihood, not too happy to hear that. Just 2 days later, he signed with the Lakers and the rest is history. He would go on to lead them to a three-peat and also won an MVP award along the way, while the Magic wouldn't get out of the first round until 2008. It goes down as one of the biggest mistakes in NBA history, as O'Neal had given Orlando the chance to match that offer, but they refused.
The Magic returned to relevancy for a while during the Dwight Howard era, but after his departure in 2012, the team has made the playoffs just twice and they were bounced out in the first round on both occasions. Shaq recently stated that he is ready to purchase the team and take it to the next level, but we doubt a sale happens. The top brass in Orlando will be hoping that Paolo Banchero, who was picked with the first pick of the 2022 draft, follows in Shaq and Dwight's footsteps by making them relevant again but they need to make sure he doesn't end up leaving like the two of them did.