ORLANDO – It was a fitting tribute on Friday to heart, hustle and canary-yellow suits.
Those three things helped define Darrell Armstrong, and to his credit the first two far outshined the last one.
Armstrong was officially inducted on Friday as the ninth member of the Orlando Magic’s hall of fame. He is the fifth former player to join the club, following Nick Anderson, Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady.
At a ceremony in the Amway Center Friday afternoon, former coaches and teammates alike honored the 6-foot Armstrong as one of the hardest-working players in NBA history.
Then, between the first and second quarter, the crowd at Friday night’s game watched a touching video honoring the career of Armstrong, who arguably is the most beloved Magic player ever.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I wasn’t waiting on that call,” Armstrong said in his speech that was equal parts funny and teary-eyed. “I’ve been waiting on this call. I’m just honored. From Nick Anderson, their first draft pick, Shaq, Penny, who took them to a championship (series) and T-Mac and myself. That’s amazing to me, especially me being undrafted.
“I’ve always been proud and honored to represent the Orlando Magic. That heart and hustle, I don’t know how it started, but it always kind of identified who I was and that’s how I tried to play. Leave your soul out on that floor and doing whatever it takes to win.”
That attitude resonated with fans and teammates alike. Armstrong played with all four of the other playing members of the Magic’s hall of fame. And one of them certainly didn’t mind telling stories about Armstrong on Friday.
But Anderson also had lavish praise for Armstrong, who had some quirky habits as a player, but had one trait that Anderson wishes everybody had.
“If kids today had a work ethic like Darrell Armstrong, it would be amazing with the talent that is out there today,” Anderson said. “He didn’t back down. I don’t care who you were.”
And while Armstrong had character, he also could be one.
“I’ll never forget the canary-yellow suit,” Anderson said. “He wore it to the game here. And then, I see the radio station guy (from Chicago during the 1996 playoffs) with the suit on.
“Darrell had sold him his canary-yellow suit. And then when we came back here, he had the canary-yellow suit on. You could go on and on – stop-sign red suits. He’d just say, this is what country boys do.”
Armstrong remembered the suit well.
“I wasn’t playing,” he said, recalling that he was a deep reserve on that team. “I hope they shut down that suit place. People were calling me on the radio. They swept us and he (their radio announcer) had it behind our bench. When you’re not playing, you got to do something. So it was that yellow suit. Mustard-yellow.”
Armstrong also had another habit that Anderson never quite understood. Putting 10 sugar packets in his cup of coffee.
“I said: You’re already hyper. You already have a lot of energy. Why do you need 10 sugars in your coffee?” Anderson said. “He just said, that’s how I am. That’s what gets me going.”
During his speech, Armstrong thanked all of his former coaches, particularly the late Jeff Capel II, who was at Fayetteville State University, along with Doc Rivers and Chuck Daly with the Magic.
“Jeff Capel is the only person who ever said I could play at the next level,” Armstrong said as tears welled up in his eyes. “He gave me a shooting drill, and I did it. He said it’s on me to learn how to shoot the basketball. I was so athletic, but I couldn’t knock down this wall with a jump shot. I want to thank Jeff Capel for believing in me, may his soul rest in peace.”
The Mavericks were very supportive of Armstrong’s big day. The Magic have a nicely done shrine of sorts at Amway Center honoring their nine hall of famers.
The Mavericks are equally happy to have Armstrong on board as one of Rick Carlisle’s assistant coaches – since 2009.
Carlisle said the path that Armstrong took – from never being recruited to playing overseas and in minor leagues before eventually getting his break with the Magic – has served him and the Mavericks well.
“When you put in those kind of miles and prove so many disbelievers wrong along the way and then you get into coaching, you can talk to virtually any player and have a reference point for what their situation is,” Carlisle said. “If it’s a guy at the end of the bench on a two-way (contract) that is getting a little down, he can relate to that and tell some stories that are pretty on point that you got to stick with it.”
As Anderson said, if your chin was down, Armstrong would push it back up.
And that’s what made him so beloved.
“What a special team,” he said of the heart-and-hustle team that he was a ringleader on at the turn of the century. “I want to thank the Orlando Magic fans for accepting me into their hearts. I’m honored and proud. I always left my heart and soul out on that floor with these fans.”