Be honest with me for just a sec, OK? How many people do you know who are even aware (let alone excited) that the 2004-2005 season for your Orlando Magic is about to begin? Well, you'll find one pumped-up Magic fan right here at Bad Sport, but I would hazard a guess that your answer to my query was "not many." Despite the fact that this year's roster is the deepest one in Magic history, not too many Orlandoans can even name a single player. After last year's atrocious showing, Magic GM John Weisbrod sent superstar/prima donna Tracy McGrady to Houston and disassembled the rest of the squad.
This year's starting lineup may not have one single player from the 2003-2004 team, and that is definitely not a bad thing. I write all this with the hope that there are at least a handful of you left who actually give a crap about the only professional sports team in Orlando.
Where did you go, Magic fans? The team (and our city) needs you now more than ever before. NBA commissioner David Stern has recently stated that if the TD Waterhouse Centre remains the only option for the Orlando Magic, he could endorse the Magic leaving Orlando. Kansas City and St. Louis have already constructed new luxury arenas in their respective downtown areas, and both cities are salivating for an NBA franchise.
A few years back, the city of Orlando went apoplectic when the DeVos family (owners of the Magic) suggested that the city might cover the costs involved with a new arena. Don't get me wrong, the TD Waterhouse is a cozy and intimate arena in which to take in a concert, motivational speaker or faith-based powerlifting exhibition, but by today's NBA standards it is simply outdated. The skyboxes were all that back in '89 when the Magic weren't even a year old, but today's NBA arena features luxury boxes on the concourse level, gourmet food courts and tons of other amenities the TD Waterhouse Centre couldn't even dream of supplying.
So, where does that leave the Magic? While there is admittedly a dearth of NBA fandom in the City Beautiful, losing the only major professional sports team we have would be huge.
Love them, hate them or ignore them, the Orlando Magic at least puts us on the map in the sports world. ESPN and other major networks are forced to say the word "Orlando" a few months out of the year. There aren't that many tangible benefits in keeping the Magic in Orlando, but to paraphrase the timeless rock band Cinderella, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Losing the revenue created by the 40-odd home games the Magic play means losing ushers, parking lot attendants, beer vendors and about 10,000 people who just might party in downtown Orlando after a game.
Throw in the fans that stop by downtown eateries before the games and you're looking at a sizeable chunk o' change. When the Jazz moved from New Orleans to Utah in 1979, New Orleans became a cultural wasteland that had NOTHING to offer … I mean, who wants to go to a small-time festival like Mardi Gras and engage in drunken revelry with college kids? The Big Easy wisely returned to the NBA last season when the Hornets moved there from Charlotte, so look for this city to return to prominence once again. OK. Seriously now.
I'm waving the Magic banner to garner as much excitement as I can about this season. We've got a brand new general manager (the aforementioned Weisbrod) who is a no-nonsense, ball-busting hockey guy. He may just be the only GM in the league with the cojones to send T-Mac packing after Tracy basically quit on the team last year. Weisbrod only wants guys who hate losing, and sacrificed big names for winning attitudes.
Will this put butts in seats? We'll find out this season. I realize the names Cuttino Mobley, Kelvin Cato, Tony Battie and Jameer Nelson might not make you run and pick up the phone to buy your season tickets, but take the Magic Challenge: Go to a game this year and see if you have a good time. The total team effort will almost assuredly eclipse last year's victory totals, and this squad just may be good enough to challenge Shaq and the Miami Heat for supremacy in the East (if not just in our state). The offense is fast-paced, there will be plenty of scoring, and if none of that is sufficient entertainment, they still shoot T-shirts from slingshots at the crowd during timeouts.
Orlando needs the Magic, and the Magic needs to prove to Orlando that they're for real this year. Another season like last year and it will be a tough sell to the city to build the team a new arena. Season ticket holders jumped ship this year in droves due to last year's inadequacies, and basketball fans are looking for a reason to once again believe in the Magic.
We may be a few (or more than a few) roster moves away from the glory days when Shaq and Penny Hardaway led us to the NBA finals, but the 2004-2005 Orlando Magic will be a fun team to watch. When you get right down to it, "fun" should be a big reason to back a sports team.
This is not the time to take the Orlando Magic for granted, as there are other cities out there champing at the bit to steal our Magic away. Do you care enough to keep them here? I sure as hell do, and I hope you're with me. Keeping the Magic in Orlando is good for you, it's good for me and it's vital if Orlando is ever going to be viewed as anything other than a joke of a city in Mickey's shadow.