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It is with a twinge of regret that I write this, as I grew up in Orlando and have loved the Magic for many years. I am now in Charlotte, a city where pro basketball died many years ago. I am excited about the start NBA playoffs, but the only sports interest around here is what the Panthers will do in the NFL draft.
Everyone knows, this is the first 50 win season for the Magic since the Shaq and Penny days. So much has happened since then – Chuck Daly came and went, Heart and Hustle, the McGrady and Hill signings, Howard and Nelson in the same draft, the idiotic Steve Francis experiment, Brian Hill’s return, the Billy Donovan fiasco, and finally, Stan van Gundy taking over as coach. Of late, there have been some disappointments, like anything from the draft post-2004, and some pleasant surprises, like Hedo Turkoglu going from a mid-level exception signing to a go-to guy or trading for Brian Cook and ending up with a starting 2-guard in Maurice Evans at the same time.
Now they’re in the playoffs as the third seed in the East. It’s a young team, and the universal expectation is that they’ll win one series at most. Honestly, winning a series would be great considering they haven’t won a first round series since before the Gators had won their first football national championship. They’ll almost certainly get the Pistons in round two, and though the Magic split the season series 2-2 with them, Detroit still won 59 games and is deadly in the playoffs. An upset there wouldn’t be a complete shock to me, but it still would be unexpected.
Even though I was 9 at the time, I can still remember the excitement about the Magic in the 1995 playoffs. The city was abuzz. Cars everywhere had “I believe in Magic” bumper stickers on them. Horace Grant goggles started showing up everywhere around town. The team actually could run retail stores, called Orlando Magic FanAttics, and they’d actually make lots of money. The sense of community and camaraderie in Orlando has never been higher. It was fitting since the team had only known joy after the expansion growing pains.
The Magic, just like the fans, are a little older and a little wiser. We’ve experienced the pain all other NBA franchises have had to. We’ve seen the team almost leave or be sold a couple times. Now it’s time to embark on another playoff journey together. Dwight, Jameer, Turk, Rashard, and Maurice will take the floor tomorrow against Toronto and the dream will be alive again. I only wish I could be there to see it.