Denton: Armstrong Reflects Back on Magic Memories

By John Denton
March 14, 2014

ORLANDO – Ironically enough, Darrell Armstrong’s favorite moment in an Orlando Magic uniform came the first time he was tabbed to play significant minutes in a playoff series.

It was 1997, the Magic had been drubbed in the first two games of the first-round playoff series against the heavily favored Miami Heat and they were trailing by 20 points in that Game 3. Pairing with a dazzling performance from Penny Hardaway, Armstrong scored 21 points and handed out eight assists and led the Magic to a home victory that kept the series alive. And in the closing minutes of the game, Magic fans expressed their love to Armstrong for the first time and the pint-sized point guard was hooked.

``At the end of the game, P.J. Brown had split his finger on the net and needed stitches. So we’re sitting there waiting while they get the blood up and the crowd just started yelling my name,’’ Armstrong said as he broke out into a smile. ```Darr-ell, Darr-ell,’ and that’s when I knew that I had made it. That’s when I knew the opportunity was there and I had taken advantage of it. And I could see that the fans really enjoyed the way that I played and how hard I played and that moment has always played back in my mind.’’

Armstrong, a fan favorite in Orlando from 1994-2003, was honored between the first and second quarters on Friday night as part of the Magic’s ``Legends Nights’’ ceremony to celebrate the 25th anniversary season. During his time with the Magic, Armstrong averaged 11.7 points, 5.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals a game. He also became the first and only player in NBA history to win the NBA’s Most Improved and Sixth Man of the Year awards in the same season.

But Armstrong’s contributions always went much deeper than statistics. Fans loved him because of his tireless work ethic and his fearless nature of dunking in traffic, diving on the floor for loose balls and hounding foes defensively every place on the court. That work ethic allowed Armstrong to make it to the NBA despite being undrafted, playing in several minor leagues and even while once working in a textile factory in his native North Carolina.

Armstrong is trying to pass along his work ethic to young players as a player development coach for the Dallas Mavericks. Armstrong, who recently worked out with the Mavs during a practice to simulate the hustle of Houston point guard Patrick Beverely, said he’s tried to instill great habits in young players.

``With AAU basketball, a lot of our kids don’t get taught the right way,’’ Armstrong said. ``They don’t teach them how to play, they don’t teach them how to work hard and they don’t teach them how to develop their game. They just take the best players and tell them to go play. … Instead of teaching them, we have to teach them when they get to the NBA. It’s like they are two or three steps behind. But I enjoy the development and teaching these kids.’’

DEFENSIVE TRANSITION: The most difficult part of making the transition from college basketball to the NBA, Magic rookie Victor Oladipo said, is the defensive end of the floor.

Because NBA referees no longer allow defenders to hand-check or be physical with wing players in an effort to promote a more free-flowing style of play, Oladipo has had to learn a new way to defend. And because some of the point guards are so quick and some of the shooting guards are so big and strong, Oladipo said it is sometimes impossible to stay in front of foes.

``Defense is a lot different in the NBA, but at the end of the day it’s an adjustment that you have to get used to,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m still trying to get used to this style and be able to play defense without fouling. What might not have been a foul in college is a foul here. So I’ve definitely had to make adjustments. In the NBA it’s hard to stop one man and shutting him out. Really, you’re just trying to slow people down and just make them make tough plays.’’

Oladipo said the fastest/quickest players he’s tried to guard this season are Washington’s John Wall, Denver’s Ty Lawson, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Atlanta’s Jeff Teague.

VIDEO TRIBUTES: As another way to celebrate their 25th anniversary season, the Magic have honored their former players all season by showing video tributes of their best plays in Orlando pinstripes.

With Washington in Orlando on Friday for the first time, the video tributes had to be extended a little longer because there are so many Wizards’ players and coaches with ties to the Magic.

Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Drew Gooden an Al Harrington all played for the Magic. Washington head coach Randy Wittman also served as an assistant coach in Orlando under former head coach Brian Hill.