ORLANDO, Fla. — Horace Grant won three NBA championships in Chicago with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and one in Los Angeles with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Ranking right up there on his list of career achievements remains a two-week stretch during the Orlando Magic’s 1995 playoff run where he could do almost no wrong.
Grant will become the latest former member of the Magic to be honored as part of the franchise’s 25th anniversary when he attends their game Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.
There are no plans for him to be carried off the court following a ceremony at the end of the first quarter. But with the possible exception of Nick Anderson’s stealing of the ball from Jordan in Game 1 against the Bulls, the lasting image from the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals is of Grant getting a ride on the shoulders of his teammates after eliminating the team with which he spent the previous seven seasons.
"It’s one of the greatest moments," Grant told FOXSportsFlorida.com. "And I say that with respect to all the championships I have won. But that moment, being a free agent, coming to the Magic and beating my former team and my former friends, was a very delightful moment."
Grant shot a staggering 64.7 percent from the floor in that six-game series while averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds. Many of his baskets came on perimeter jump shots where the Bulls and coach Phil Jackson appeared content to let Grant try beating them rather than O’Neal, Anderson, Penny Hardaway or Dennis Scott.
"He never said anything about it," Anderson said. "But you could tell by his emotions when we knocked them off in Chicago and we hoisted him up in the air that it meant a lot to him."
"We all knew how special it would be for him," said Jeff Turner, who backed up Grant at power forward on that team and is now the Magic’s television color analyst. "Nobody really talked as much (in Chicago) about Horace — it was always Scottie and Michael. Horace was a big part of those runs. I don’t think any of us really appreciated how good he was until he was with us. And then you see night in, night out a guy who gets you 12 to 15 points and 10 rebounds."
Grant averaged between 12 and 14 points a game in each of his first four seasons after signing with the Magic. After his fifth season with them, he was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics for three players who never suited up for the Magic (Don MacLean, Billy Owens and Dale Ellis) and the rights to a first-round draft pick who spent just one year in Orlando (Corey Maggette).
One year later, he was reunited with O’Neal and Jackson with the Lakers and started 77 of 82 regular-season games for a team which went 15-1 that postseason, losing only in the opening game of the NBA Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers.
"If I could have written the perfect script for a screenplay," Grant said, "I would have loved to have stayed in Orlando and helped win a championship with Shaq and Penny and Nick and Dennis and the rest of the guys for a great owner like Rich DeVos — who I consider just a fantastic person and a friend."
Grant returned to the Magic the next season. But they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Charlotte Hornets, who were on the verge of moving to New Orleans and thus played most of their games in an arena close to two-thirds empty.
"It was kind of like the Twilight Zone," Grant said. "It was bizarre."
Now 48, Grant lives in Arroyo Grande, Calif., a community located an hour north of Santa Barbara in an area known for producing wine. By his best guess, the last time he was in Orlando was with the Lakers in February 2004 for a game against the Magic in his final season.
Grant said his return sprung from a phone conversation that Sam Smith, the longtime Bulls beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune and author of The Jordan Rules, had with Magic chief executive officer Alex Martins and senior vice president of public relations Joel Glass. Smith suggested to Grant to give Glass a call, and things took off from there.
"I just cannot wait to get back there and see old faces and the fans," he said.
Grant retired a year before Jason Maxiell, now a backup center with the Magic, was drafted by the Detroit Pistons. Considering that Maxiell wears goggles similar to those Grant once made famous in Orlando and has the same jersey number, Grant looks forward to meeting him face-to- face before the game.
"Man, (No.) 54 and goggles? It was a little weird," he said of the first time he saw Maxiell in a Magic uniform. "If he hits a few more 17-footers and does a little more rebounding and got a little more playing time, I can see that kind of similarity."
As far as Anderson is concerned, there’s no duplicating the original.
"I’m looking forward to seeing my old buddy with the big goggles," he said. "I hope he walks out on the floor with the goggles. It’s going to bring back a whole lot of memories for everybody."