It was Darrell Armstrong's rookie season and he played such a small role, but he got to experience it. The revelry and excitement that comes with reaching the NBA Finals. The Magic certainly felt like they had reached the top of the mountain -- even with the Rockets standing in their way -- with the celebration that erupted at Orlando Arena following the Game Seven victory over the Pacers.
Armstrong (right) was living the dream that season, riding the Magic momentum to the 1995 NBA Finals.
He played just eight minutes in three games after Orlando signed him out of the CBA. But even with his lack of playing time, Armstrong immediately became part of the team. It was that infectious enthusiasm and energy that earned him a roster spot in 1996 and made him a rotation regular and fan favorite in the years to come.
Armstrong and the Magic never got back to that level together.
Darrell found his way to the Finals again in 2006 with the Mavericks. His best years were behind him and he was largely a veteran presence off the bench as a third point guard. He finally got to play in the finals, but just for six minutes in a Game Four blowout loss. Again, a title eluded him and his opportunity closed as a player.
Armstrong still holds a special place for Magic fans.
He was the face of the Heart and Hustle team of 1999-2000 and pretty much the face of the franchise in the short time between the Shaq/Penny years and the T-Mac years. He was not always the best player on the floor, but you knew he was going to work hard and leave all his effort on the floor.
I would bet very few Magic fans would say any former player deserves to a win a title as much as Darrell (Nick Anderson certainly comes to mind after his heartbreak in 1995).
Armstrong is going to get an opportunity to win a championship once again, doing what he did throughout his career -- sacrifice himself to make others better and push others to do better. This will not be Armstrong's title if the Mavericks end up winning. He is just an assistant coach on Rick Carlisle's staff. His impact on Dallas throughout its run to the title is very intangible, just like his effect on the teams he played on throughout his career.
Orlando fans should be ecstatic he is getting this chance again. His hard work has paid off for him throughout his career, going from an undrafted diminuitive guard, to overseas toiler, to bench warmer, to key cog on a playoff team and fan favorite. Armstrong has become a great coach, pretty much holding down an assisting coach job since he retired.
One day, maybe, Armstrong will be back coaching with the Magic. Many fans would probably like to see that. But that might mean he did something wrong with his current job in Dallas. And that would not be good.
If you are looking for yet another reason to cheer for Dallas in this year's NBA Finals, Darrell is definitely one. He is in his third finals now. He won't play the gigantic, impactful role that the players or Carlisle will. But he has another crack at winning a championship. The Magic and their fans should certainly be behind him on that.
Photo via DayLife.com.