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How the Orlando Magic stole a piece of my heart

Our Magic fandom series continues....

Shaquille O’Neal Portrait Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

With the ongoing NBA hiatus, it seems as good a time as any to talk about how each of us became a fan of the Orlando Magic. Check out Part I of the series where our Zach Oliver discusses the impact the Magic have had on his life.

I have been a fan of the Orlando Magic for as long as I can remember.

Despite growing up in the 1990s this fact made me an oddity in the small Australian rural town that was home. The asphalt courts at school were filled primarily with Bulls and Hornets gear, and the kids would race down at recess to be the first to lay claim to names like Jordan and Pippen and Mourning and Grandmama and even Bogues for the ensuing games.

I’d wear my Magic shirt, but as a jump-shooting guard, I never quite felt comfortable with the idea of pretending to be Shaq. Even at the age of eleven I preferred the perimeter, and so when in 1993 the Magic came away from the draft with a silky smooth and long-limbed guard from Memphis, I knew I had found my lunchtime alter ego. “I got Penny”, I’d call, proud of the fact that I’d found a sports fandom niche that felt like mine. Soon I was also wearing that same Magic shirt to bed each night because I didn’t want to take it off.

A few years later, I remember being crushed by some missed free throws that I watched on a tape weeks after the result had actually been decided. It wasn’t long before I again experienced that same feeling, this time when a magazine filled me in on the fact that Shaq’s talents had been taken from Florida.

Even if I wanted to, I still can’t forget Hill’s ankles, nor do I get any less bummed out today when I recall McGrady’s comments from 2003 about the second round. I remember scouring the latest issues of Pro Basketball Today and hoping that Amare Stoudemire would slide to number 18, and then having to instead talk myself into Ryan Humphrey. Turns out I spent a lot of time talking myself into any number of similar mid-range picks that never had a hope of panning out.

Of course, the Courtney Lee layup still stings to even think about. There is also the seemingly ever-growing list of superstars who leave town, including the many sleepless nights spent on Twitter during the Dwightmare.

But then there’s the other side of the coin. Shaq and Penny were a joy to watch in those formative years. I liberally stole Heart and Hustle as my own on-court philosophy. McGrady was arguably the best player in the league from ’01 to ’03.

I can recall the Howard versus Okafor debates in the lead-up to the ‘04 draft. I can also recall the giddy sense of justification and optimism that accompanied a late-season winning streak in 2006 that was driven by Dwight and his draft-class running mate, Nelson. This was followed a few short years later by the toppling of the Cavaliers, an upset delivered courtesy of Superman’s muscle, Van Gundy’s clipboard, and the sweet shooting of Lewis, Turkoglu, Pietrus and Redick. I even have (some) fond memories of that season’s NBA Finals, namely the free-wheeling masterclass delivered in Game 3 by Skip to My Lou.

I don’t want to overlook the smaller, in-game moments either. Shaq literally tearing down rings. T-Mac effortlessly destroying Washington to the tune of 62 points. The circus shot that White Chocolate made against the Wizards at the first Magic game I ever got to attend. And, most recently, athletic plays involving numbers 1, 20 and 00 that tantalize with promise.

1993 NBA Draft Photo by Lou Capozzola/NBAE via Getty Images

At the start of last year I took a new job interstate, and on my final day of work at the old gig I wore a Magic-related t-shirt to the office. It’s probably my favorite: one of those Mitchell & Ness draft day designs, this one featuring a rookie Anfernee Hardaway raising a finger to the ceiling and holding a pretty gnarly retro Magic jacket.

Throughout the day multiple people commented on the shirt, some with an appreciative sports-based take and others who just liked the design. Either way, I loved the fact that it allowed me to talk basketball and to wax lyrical about my favorite player of all time. I was absolutely stoked when in passing one of my ninth-grade students spotted the shirt and asked “Penny for your thoughts?” It was a glimmer of franchise recognition, and suggested that the Orlando Magic have managed to retain at least some small niche in the basketball zeitgeist.

Even now, with basketball seemingly a distant memory and an uncertain immediate future for the NBA to navigate, my spirits are lifted whenever I get the opportunity to talk about the Magic. Such moments always bring forth a potent combination of passion, excitement and anticipation, and etch a smile firmly on my dial. They remind me of the love I will always have for this sport and this team. It almost certainly explains why in 2016 I decided to launch my own Magic-focused blog, and why in 2018 I jumped at the chance to join the team here at OPP.

Sports fandom is a weird phenomenon. As Jerry Seinfeld once quipped, we’re essentially “rooting for laundry.” The best comedy is based on an underlying truth, and it’s absolutely the case here; at various points I’ve talked myself into players like a washed-up Gilbert Arenas, an unqualified Jeryl Sasser, a calcified Patrick Ewing, and a bloated Shawn Kemp. And yet, it ultimately doesn’t matter. The names and faces may change, the team dynamic and identity may alter, but the uniform remains a (relative) constant. My allegiance is pledged not to any one individual but to the pinstripes.

Perhaps the greatest thing the world of professional sports has going for it is that it forever promises a better result tomorrow to replace today’s disappointment. And while being a hopelessly committed fan of the Magic has certainly brought with it some dispiriting moments at various points, it’s also delivered some amazing highs. Perhaps most importantly, I genuinely believe it’s a dedication that will one be rewarded with the ultimate prize.

Rain, hail or shine. Win, loss or beatdown. Regardless, I know I’m still going to be here at the end of the day. I’ll always believe in the team that owns my heart.

I’ll always believe in Magic.