Orlando has suffered in the image department since 1971. This is not new information for anyone who lives here, as the shadow The Mouse casts is long and dark, making it difficult for anyone outside of Orlando to think there's anything else going on here. I've lived here for 27 years, and I can't even begin to count the number of conversations I've had with my fellow residents about how much there is on offer in The City Beautiful and how little of it gets the acclaim it deserves outside of Central Florida.
One of the few pegs of civic pride on which we can hang our hat is the fact that Orlando is one of the 30 or so cities that can claim an NBA franchise. The biggest stars of one of the country's biggest sports blaze through town a few times a year, and Dad can take his family of four to a game for less than a hundred bucks. Sound like fun? Enjoy it while you can, because you just might be seeing the last of it.
The same Orlando residents who complain about the tourists (and their driving habits, accents, customs, clothing, etc.) are proclaiming loudly that they don't want a red cent of tourist-tax money going to help the Magic update their woefully outdated home. This small-town (and small-minded) attitude has placed the Magic in a quandary. Why would the team foot the bill for a new crib by itself when another city (Kansas City, to be precise) already has an arena built and would love a resident for it?
Do any local residents truly care if a family of four sunburned Brits gets charged an extra penny on their hotel room? Hell, no! Fleecing the tourists is what made Central Florida what it is today: a glorified swamp with tons of hotel rooms and golf courses. The state of Florida spends millions selling the idea of bringing the Griswolds to town. With the added stress on our already-overloaded roadways, tourists should be charged an extra five bucks a head simply for the privilege of sitting in I-4 gridlock for a week. We should allocate some of that money toward building a new arena for Orlando … and not just for the Magic.
Have you been to St. Petersburg lately? They've got a magnificent facility called the St. Pete Times Forum that makes the TD Waterhouse Centre look like the Bob Carr. The Forum has state-of-the-art concessions, luxury boxes on the concourse level and a modern look and feel that makes it a prime destination in the Tampa Bay area. Guess how many professional teams played at the St. Pete Times Forum last year? NONE. That's right, zero. Tampa Bay does have a pro hockey team, but I'll remind you that there was no NHL hockey played last year, which meant that the Forum was paying its bills by hosting a diverse slate of major "events" that drew audiences who don't know (and don't care to know) a field goal from a line drive.
Hear where U2 are playing their two Florida dates? Yep. Miami and Tampa. I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of bands like U2 acting like they'll contract malaria if they play Orlando. If we had a state-of-the-art facility, top-notch acts like U2, Sting, Beastie Boys and so many others would no longer pass over our city like Mischa Barton skipping dessert. The underlying problem is that the rock concert-attending crowd has no political foothold in this burg. The bluehairs and tight-asses still rule the roost in O-town, and unless there's a drastic change in the mentality here, the city is going to lose some really cool things, like big-ticket rock shows and, yes, the opportunity to watch the aerial acrobatics of the NBA.
For some reason, this city has convinced itself that basketball isn't worth seeing live. Perhaps the teenage millionaires with their bling-bling and MTV Cribs have turned some of the Orlando crowd away from basketball. Good ol' boys who smoke expensive cigars and drink scotch in some of the finer steakhouses in town don't want to see some kid from the projects driving the same (or better) Mercedes as they do. Many of the middle-aged men who grew up as basketball fans may have jumped off the NBA ship when hip-hop culture took over. Gone are the days of shorts that were disturbingly tight and, well, short; in their place are cornrows and gold fronts.
Truth be told, the game of basketball has undergone a complete transformation over the past few decades. What gets played today on NBA courts is a mirror image of its video-game counterparts. Traveling violations are never called, nor is the double dribble. The game today is more about throwing down a big dunk over a nemesis and getting on SportsCenter than it is setting a screen so a teammate gets an open shot. As a lifelong basketball fan, I find the "new game" more captivating for the casual observer, but the fundamentals upon which basketball was built are crumbling like a stale cookie. Does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, it does not. People want bang for their buck; they want the dunks and the fist-pumps. Regardless of how it's played, basketball is still the most exciting sport to watch live. Problem is, the MTV generation toward whom the game seems to be targeted isn't breaking any Benjamins to actually go see the game live.
Even though there are $10 tickets for most games, Orlando has once again let a season go by without packing the TD Waterhouse every night … or even most nights. I went to a game recently and my friend Jerry inquired, "Why do they want a new arena when they can't fill this one?" During an uncharacteristically lengthy silent pause as I thought about it, I wrestled with the proposed logic that a new state-of-the-art arena would bring people out who aren't attending games now. Are modern luxury boxes going to sufficiently raise the level of support and appreciation needed from residents to keep the Magic in Orlando? Why would the team even want to stay in a city that bitches and moans about tourism dollars helping the franchise build a whiz-bang facility? If you treated your loved one like the city has treated the Magic, he or she would have jumped into the arms of a new love already. Kansas City is that new guy; he just rode in on a white horse with a bouquet of roses, and he has a 10-inch tongue and four credit cards.