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My personal fandom story is unique in a few ways. For one, I didn't become a fan of the Orlando Magic, or even of basketball, until fairly late in my life, 16 or 17 years old. I didn't even properly learn the basics of how to play the silly game myself until a couple years after that. Despite never playing a single minute on a vaguely organized team, and despite pursuing an education wholly unrelated to journalism or writing, I've ended up as a credentialed member of the media at actual NBA games.
Most bizarre, though, is that basketball was something I unequivocally despised, almost until the moment it became my favorite sport.
See, for most of my life, basketball was the thing you did when the P.E. or gym teachers couldn't be bothered to come up with an actual lesson plan, when they'd throw everyone out onto the court for "free day." Turns out, running around randomly with a bunch of rowdy elementary and middle school students was not an especially...nurturing environment.
I never learned how to dribble the ball. I definitely didn't learn about how to shoot, much less make a layup. I vaguely remember one day when we went over different ways to pass, like a bounce pass or chest pass, but I think we might have been using dodgeballs instead of basketballs. I have more memories from my younger days of jamming my fingers with basketballs than I do scoring with them. Needless to say, basketball strategy never came close to entering my thoughts.
If only to reaffirm my distaste for the sport, I actively sought other reasons why basketball was inferior to other options like football, a sport I actually did play for five years. Intentional fouling was my go-to excuse: after all, what kind of stupid sport would reward you for breaking the rules? Besides that, when I watched any kind of basketball, it all looked random to me, chaos that occasionally resulted in the ball going through the hoop.
So when did it all change? It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment, but there's no doubt that it's because of the Magic. For reasons I don't exactly remember, reading Brian Schmitz's and Mike Bianchi's columns in the Orlando Sentinel became part of my morning routine (after reading the comics, of course). My first memory of the team was probably something to do with Grant Hill, and how that whole situation went south.
What really did it, though, were two very important people to the Magic: Dwight Howard, and Stan Van Gundy.
When the Magic got good, I took an interest. After all, I'd followed the Billy Donovan fiasco, and it was interesting to see their backup plan actually have some success. When they got really good, I wanted to learn why.
That era of the Magic, of course, was defined by the 1-in-4-out style that focused on dominating around the rim with Howard, and abusing teams that tried to double him by finding open 3-point shots. While the methods are a bit different for most teams these days, it was a style that foreshadowed the NBA's move toward those efficient zones, especially the enthusiasm for the deep ball.
Suddenly, it all made sense. What once looked like chaos suddenly had meaning. On a basic level, the Magic's strategy made sense, leveraging their advantages to the maximum effect. I won't lie, the fact that they won a whole lot of games was fairly persuasive, too.
That about sums it up. From there, it was fast-forwarding my fandom to a point where I actually sort of knew what I was talking about, getting my friends into basketball and the Magic...you know, all the normal fandom stuff. That's why I'm a fan of the Orlando Magic.
(Not gonna lie, though, the intentional fouling thing is still kinda dumb.)
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