Growing up, I could never get enough sports.
I played baseball and basketball. When I crawled out of bed on the weekends, I would sprint out to find the Orlando Sentinel’s sports section to take the page that had every college football, and NFL game for their respective days out and make picks. I would track how I did each day, and took pride in my knowledge from such a young age.
But basketball was always the sport I would come back to. I would grind in my driveway every day, getting up hundreds of shots, practicing my craft trying to get better. Injuries ultimately derailed any dreams I might’ve had to play at higher levels, but it didn’t stop my passion.
It all started with the Tracy McGrady led Orlando Magic of the early 2000’s. I would watch, or listen — remember when not every game was broadcast on TV? — to every game. I didn’t miss a game for some seven years from 2001-2007, I really couldn’t get enough.
Those weren’t the easiest times to be a Magic fan, but they were exciting. McGrady could single handedly make a game exciting, be it scoring 40 in three quarters, knocking down contested three’s to keep the Magic in the game, or throwing the ball off the backboard to himself, he was a one man show, and it drew me in.
My first in person experience was a game against the Sacramento Kings in 2001. As McGrady turned to shoot, the Magic called timeout. Kings guard Bobby Jackson slapped at the ball, hitting McGrady on the wrist, to which McGrady threw the ball in Jackson’s face. A shove from Jackson led to McGrady going at him, they fought in the left corner of the TD Waterhouse Center court across from the Kings bench. The Magic lost the game in overtime, but it was a memory I wouldn’t soon forget.
When McGrady was traded to the Houston Rockets, I felt like a piece of me had been ripped away. He was Magic basketball to me, and I couldn’t imagine watching the Magic play without him on the roster.
Then came Dwight Howard, and all the years of joy after that.
I was in attendance for JJ Redick’s professional debut against the Atlanta Hawks. The Magic dominated, and as the game wore on, the fans, myself included, implored Brian Hill to put Redick in, chanting “We want JJ!” He played the final three minutes of the game, and knocked down his first shot. It was pure euphoria for everyone in attendance, and it just got better for me, as I caught a towel from Dwight after the game. I still have that Gatorade towel neatly folded up to this day.
It took time, like I knew it would, but what came was some of the most fun I ever had watching basketball. Seeing how Howard would dominate the paint, and Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis would play off of him perfectly, knocking down seemingly every shot from beyond the arc, brought me joy nightly.
I went to more and more games, bought more merchandise than one person could ever need. I wore a Magic shirt, jersey or hat seemingly everyday. I debated things with people I barely knew, and argued about what the team was doing with friends.
Simply put, I lived, breathed, and loved Magic basketball.
As the success continued, my fandom grew stronger. I went out and watched playoff game after playoff game during their magical runs in 2008/09 and 2009/10. I shared tables with complete strangers during game one of the NBA Finals in 2009, just to guarantee I’d have somewhere to sit for the game.
The Magic meant everything to me. People knew me as the guy who knew everything about the team. I simply couldn’t get enough.
That passion, coupled with some advice from my favorite college professor, ultimately led to me deciding to try out writing. Through out middle school and high school, I had hated writing. It never came easy to me, and I never enjoyed it. But, with that advice and the push from Professor McGowan, I decided I would give it a shot. I thought it was a good way for me to stay connected to the team, and share the passion I had.
Making that decision opened doors I never thought possible.
I got to cover NBA games, but not just any other game, I got to cover the Magic play games. It was a dream come true. I had always wanted to make it to the NBA in one way, shape or form, and I finally felt like I had done that, and it was because of the team that I had loved oh so much.
Now, in year seven of covering the team, I’ve found my extreme passion has lost some of the flame. Maybe that’s because, as a member of the media, I need to be impartial because that could make me the best journalist possible. I felt like I couldn’t cover the team properly if I was still emotionally invested in every game.
Despite some of the fire as a fan diminishing, it hasn’t lessened what the franchise has meant to me. It helped me through tough times, and it helped me to achieve goals I never thought would be possible at one point.
I got to the NBA— even if it wasn’t as a player—, I’ve made lifelong friends and built relationships that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible without that long-term passion.
As I look back on the last nearly 20 years of my life, the Magic have played a big role, and I’m sure they’re going to continue to do that for a long time to come.