What’s your favorite moment in the history of Orlando sports?
There’s a big list of items to choose from, considering the city’s rich history in sports, but below, the WKMG-TV editorial team has detailed five moments in particular that we believe were especially memorable for the community.
“In the midst of these difficult and trying times for our community, we still want to be able to recognize and celebrate the many individuals in our sports community who have gone above and beyond for not only their respective organizations, but for the Greater Orlando region,” said Paul Johns, Chief Operating Officer at Orlando Health South Lake Hospital and Chairman of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission Board of Directors.
Until then, here are those top five.
5). Orlando is awarded an NBA franchise.
It originally seemed like an impossible dream, back in the 1980s. Put an NBA franchise in Orlando? Is the city big enough? What about the airport? What about an arena? How would this work?
But thanks to the city approving an arena project and a successful bid presentation led by former general manager Pat Williams, Orlando was awarded one of four expansion franchises by the NBA on April 22, 1987.
The Magic played their first game in 1989.
4). World Cup comes to Orlando.
There was a lot of buzz in the summer of 1994, when the world’s most-watched sporting event, the World Cup of soccer, was hosted by the United States for the first time.
The excitement was even more evident in Orlando, which was chosen as one of the nine host cities. There were five games played at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium), the last of which was a 2-0 win for the Netherlands over Ireland in a Round of 16 elimination game.
3). WrestleMania brings large crowd, history.
The state of Florida had never hosted professional wrestling’s signature event, WrestleMania, but all that changed when Camping World Stadium (then known as Citrus Bowl) hosted WrestleMania XXIV on March 30, 2008. The second WrestleMania ever to be held outdoors (Caesars Palace in Nevada hosted the first), a capacity crowd of 74,635 jammed the stadium to watch an event live that had millions of viewers around the world.
The event also turned out to be the final match for wrestling legend Ric Flair, who was defeated by Shawn Michaels. Toward the end of the match, Michaels famously said “I’m sorry, I love you” to Flair before delivering a final knockout blow to end Flair’s career.
In 2017, WrestleMania returned to Orlando when Camping World Stadium played host to WrestleMania 33.
2). UCF’s unbeaten season.
Just two years after a winless season, nobody could see this coming.
Under second-year head coach Scott Frost, the Knights did a complete 180-degree turnaround, going from winless to unbeaten following a scintillating 13-0 season that put the program on college football’s map.
The dream season was capped off with a 34-27 win over traditional SEC power Auburn in the Fiesta Bowl.
1). Magic advance to NBA Finals.
It was one magical night (pun intended) in the spring of 1995. Just more than six years after playing their first NBA game and thanks to some luck in the NBA Draft lottery that ultimately brought the organization Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, the Magic advanced to basketball’s biggest stage.
Thanks to a 105-81 rout of the Indiana Pacers at the old Orlando Arena in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Magic moved on to the NBA Finals in front of a joyous and raucous crowd that celebrated throughout the night.