Last edited on 5/1/11, 10:48 a.m.
It was 1996 and I was discovering the NBA for the first time, spending all my allowance on cards, memorizing stats, working on my dribble. Growing up in North Florida, my hometown team just happened to have two of the league’s hottest young stars, who happened to have made the finals last year. I couldn’t help falling for the Orlando Magic. We were just good enough to believe in. I was convinced that year that we could get by the Bulls, 72 wins and all.
Just good enough to believe in. Well, we had our asses handed to us, Shaq left us for L.A., and to be honest, that’s when I really fell in love. Ever-conscious of being dismissed as that team Shaq left, I learned the true meaning of being a fan. Now a preteen that didn’t quite fit in, always the shortest player on the basketball court — I came to identify with the Magic’s heart and hustle. They helped me understand it was okay to be different, understated.
By the time we signed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, I had started to discover girls. And I guess I got sick of Grant Hill’s knees crapping out, because I tuned out entirely for most of the 2000s.
It wasn’t until 2008 that I started following basketball again, when an upstart Magic team captured my heart. We had three deserving all-stars, insane depth, Turk, Pietrus, Courtney Lee, Gortat. We took the corner 3 over the sensational dunk; we preferred defensive switches and ball rotation to individual brilliance. We were smart, we played to our strengths and had an eye for detail. We were more than the sum of our parts. And it wasn’t just the team itself — it was knowing that we were under the radar. We didn’t look as good on magazine covers as Lebron, and we knew it. No one expected us to make that run to the finals in 2008, but attentive Magic fans knew we were more than capable. How sweet it was when they came through — coming within a layup of going up 2-1 in the finals.
Becoming a sports fan in my 20s was an extremely self-conscious process for me. In my teens, I developed a distaste for the machismo and bravado of the prototypical fan. I came to think of sports as little more than a petty proletariat distraction from real issues. By college, I had nearly given up on sports entirely.
But the Magic, nuanced, just good enough to believe in, and the perennial underdog: they offered me an in, a way to engage without compromising my self-identity. Finding likeminded critical basketball fans, and learning to appreciate the excitement of the NBA on my own terms has been an enormously rewarding experience for me — one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
This Orlando Magic team was always just good enough to really believe in. Up until a week ago, I would tell anyone who listened that if we would just play the kind of ball we’re capable of, we could beat anybody.
Well, it’s time to acknowledge that they’re no longer good enough to believe in. I’ll always be a Magic fan, don’t get me wrong. But a team with Arenas and Turkoglu taking up over half the cap isn’t winning a championship. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but with good management and some luck, we’ll be back soon enough.
History will forget this team, and that’s okay. But I’ll always remember them — as the team that helped me understand and embrace fandom, as a team I could believe in despite the odds, and as a team that really had a chance. I will always love the 2008-2011 Orlando Magic.