Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dwight Howard Tells The World That He Wants To Stay in Orlando!!!

Or something like that. This Dwight Howard video from the Memorial Day BBQ is even more enjoyable than the transcript. Just hearing the man's love for Orlando makes a big difference than just reading it. Also, good to hear that Gilbert Arenas apparently lost 15 pounds (No clue from what period). If this is all an act from Dwight, then give that man an Oscar. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Best Sports Birthday Present Ever

So here we go, May 30th, my now 23rd birthday. Unfortunately, the Magic are not around to make it even better. 2009 really was quite a phenomenal run to our second NBA Finals. Ultimate underdogs in the Eastern Conference Finals, the NBA world was stunned to see the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James get destroyed by a superior team. Amway Arena was host to Game 6

Win, and we'd meet the Lakers. Lose, and the Cavs could overcome disappointment being at home for the deciding game. Fortunately, Dwight Howard was godly. 40 points and 14 rebounds, something LeBron couldn't counter. I was at a watch party, but you could feel how intense that Amway Arena crowd's energy was. 

Such a fun 21st birthday in the end. I'd waited 14 years for the franchise to get back to the Finals. Can't wait for when we do it again. 3rd time is the charm. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On This Day, May 28th: Some Deep Playoff Losses



Orlando had to look back upon getting swept for the 3rd playoff run in a row. Not only did we get swept out of the Eastern Conference Finals, we got swept in the O-Rena. It was the end of the road for Shaq. Of course, at the time, there were just slight rumors of that possibly happening. Injuries had crushed us, but we all knew Michael Jordan was back for real after he carved us up:

Jordan hit 16-of-23 field goals and 10-of-14 free throws while making good on his promise to deliver the clincher in Game 4.

''I tried not to force the issue,'' said Jordan, league MVP and leader on a Bulls team that won an NBA-record 72 regular-season games. ''I tried to let the game come to me.''

Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper scored 12 points each. Dennis Rodman added nine points and a game-high 14 rebounds, but this Memorial Day and this game belonged to Jordan, who was not 100 percent healthy.

''We were fortunate this afternoon to ride the coattails of Michael Jordan,'' Chicago coach Phil Jackson said. ''We were watching him closely. He did not feel well today. He rolled his ankle the other day (Saturday in Game 3), but Michael has a penchant for coming up with these kind of games under duress.''

Speaking of duress, that would aptly describe the plight of the Magic. They trailed the series, 3-0, and had a virtual Who's Who list of injured players on the bench.

Power forward Horace Grant had been idle since injuring his left elbow in Game 1.

Shaw sat out games 3 and 4 with muscle spasms in his neck. And Anderson, who would have drawn the defensive assignment against Jordan, severely sprained his right wrist in Game 3, keeping him out of Monday's action.

''What can you say about the guy?'' Anderson said of Jordan. ''You're not going to stop him. He's going to get his share of points and share of shots. You just have to play him to your best ability. But he's the baddest dude to ever lace up a pair of shoes.''

Orlando wasn't supposed to be in this position. Up 3-1 over the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. So Game 5 in Cleveland was a chance for the Magic to put it away on the road and take the franchise's second trip to the NBA Finals. It was a close game up until the final 2 minutes or so as Dwight Howard had fouled out.

It's quite a boxscore to examine. Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight, and Mickael Pietrus did there thing while Rashard Lewis and Rafer Alston had very forgettable performances. It was a bump in the road though as we knew what would happen for Game 6 back in Orlando.


The Magic had stormed back being down 3-0 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, having saved off being swept in Boston, then winning a game at Amway Arena (The last game in our old building, so at least it went out on a high note), then trying to pull the improbable and try to win Game 6 in Boston. Dwight had a fairly good game as usual, but after that, not much production from anyone else.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Of Course We Don't Want Miami Winning Another Title

Tuesday May 31st will mark the beginning of the rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals between Dallas and Miami. This will be both teams' second trips to the championship series. As all of us Magic fans know, Miami took the title in 2006 from Dallas thanks to Shaq, Dwyane Wade, and partially because of officiating.

This rematch is all about the revenge of Dirk and how 90% of the world will be praying that good prevails over the evil 'Decision' empire. We Magic fans should be at the head of that Dallas bandwagon. Yes 5 years has drastically changed things, but the same rules apply. Miami is evil.

They have Pat Riley still and even if you may like Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh have replaced Shaq as the hated party. No Orlando resident should be cheering for the Heat. None. I don't care if you have a soft spot for Mike Miller or Juwan Howard. They're not as likable as Antoine Walker and Gary Payton.

Since the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat were created over 20 years ago, there's always been one eye keeping watch of the other. It's been the big community of Miami against the small town of Orlando.

From '92 and on is when Orlando got a death grip on the rivalry with Orlando ultimately reaching the 1995 NBA Finals in just its 6th season of existence (Which is quite remarkable). But we saw our youthful team get swept by the Houston Rockets in what would be their 2nd, and last for now, title as part of their back-to-back run of greatness. Miami had some decent playoff runs under the watch of Pat Riley in the late '90s but really didn't become relevant in basketball until 2004.

Orlando still was viewed as the better franchise even though the Magic had entered the dark days by 2003. In fact, before that, Miami was better known for the DolphinsMarlins, and Panthers football, baseball, and hockey franchises. The Heat franchise was 4th on that professional league list. Almost invisible for the most part. Now with the Big 3 in town, Heat Havoc has hit South Beach once again after the departure of Shaq.

Once the Heat won that first title in 2006, the picture changed and both Florida basketball teams have never been viewed equally again. Miami has the superior NBA reputation as a winning team because of that one trophy. The Magic could have evened things up in 2009, but unfortunately Kobe and the Lakers were too good for us. Now, the Magic are at the start of a tough calendar year or longer period in the franchise's history. Meanwhile, Miami can grab a 2-0 lead in the sunshine state NBA championship battle.

The fate of the basketball world and humanity is in the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. We're approaching a lockout and we know David Stern got the Finals matchup he wanted based on the Conference Finals matchups. I'm not saying the league is fixed, but it definitely got the best ratings duo possible.

If Miami were to win, it gives stars like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul a lot to think about when it comes to loyalty and whether it is better to join one or two superstars in one city. Now, hopefully the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will be passed in the near future (We wish) will help keep some form of parity throughout the league.

If Dallas wins, it means Dirk's patience of staying with that Mavericks franchise will have paid off and that a medium market like Orlando can stay attractive in comparison to New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. All I know is Orlando has 2 NBA Finals appearances and no titles to show for it. Miami can go 2-for-2 with this possible 2nd title jump starting a dynasty. It's scary to fathom.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Scott Maxwell Really Needs To Be Called Out

I opened up my Orlando Sentinel today, and turning to the Local section, I found avery peculiar piece written by Scott Maxwell. I expect Magic and community negativity from Mike Thomas, not so much from Maxwell who I normally regard as a great writer for our paper. My biggest beef is that he misleads the public in saying that taxpayers pay for the Magic's payroll. Come on now:

A few weeks ago, ESPN released some astounding figures about how much sports teams spend.

Your Orlando Magic ranked fifth-highest…in the world.

With an average of more than $6.3 million per player, our hometown team beat out 195 other NFL, soccer and baseball teams — not to mention every other team in the NBA, except the Lakers.

I suppose we could simply tip our hats to Rich DeVos and his $89 million payroll…if we weren't the ones subsidizing it.

But we are.

That's because the NBA is a broken business model.

These private ventures simply cannot cover their own costs. So they get taxpayers to bail them out.

Nothing paints a clearer picture of that than the new arena.

Remember: The whole reason we built this thing was because DeVos claimed he couldn't make money in the old one.

Now, if your business was spending too much, you'd cut costs.

In the world of pro sports, however, you just stick it to taxpayers.

The Magic demanded a new $480 million arena. The politicians obliged. Ultimately, the team's total contribution of $60 million contribution represented less money than the team spends on player salaries in a single year.

Made me want to bash my head against the wall. Plenty of common sense lacking here. I feel like he missed a lot of other points. One big one is the team has to compete to put butts in those new seats. It isn't a guarantee, but high payrolls give franchises a higher probability of competing for championships. Now, this season wasn't a good example for us with our early exit.

It's more than fine to have complaints on which players should be getting that money. Feel free to pray for a smaller salary cap. Until that happens, tickets and concession prices are high everywhere. Even with our brand spanking new facility, that's internationally acclaimed as one of the best stadiums, the prices are still not THAT outrageous. You get a ton of entertainment, food, and bar options. This building makes money on the weekends as a club.

This isn't a Magic issue, it is an NBA issue. Just look at Sacramento and the same situation they're in now that we were in half a decade ago. I believe Maxwell freaked out about the Magic having such a high payroll, and seeing that we got knocked out in the 1st round triggered this article. Plus, he's complaining about the price of playoff tickets.

This isn't the preseason. Rich DeVos is at the very tail end of his life. He's stated before that he'll shell out of the money for a championship. As long as the demand is immensely high as it currently is for the Magic and the Amway Center, there's no reason for prices of anything to drop.

I think Maxwell also drastically misses the point about how the Magic are not the only show in town that uses the Amway Center. It's why we're getting the 2012 All-Star Game. It's why we've already seen some phenomenal concerts occur this year (Lil' Wayne, Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi) with more to come this summer (Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj).

On a more minor scale, you have the Predators as well. This building is the foundation of revitalizing Church Street. It's a big reason why the pending performing arts center will be created. The buzz is coming back to a city whose future was in limbo not that long ago.

The comments section of that article is starting to fill up so there's obviously people for and against Maxwell. So Scott, I'm sorry you can't satisfy your son all the time. Can't be the perfect parent. It's a privilege to have a professional team, not a right.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On This Day, May 24th: Player Tryouts, Hakeem in Pinstripes, Brian Hill Gets Sacked, and Much More



The dream of a franchise came true. Now the tough part of scouting came to play. The University of Central Florida, my alma mater, was hosting tryouts to see who could get an Orlando Magic training camp invite. A lot of CBA guys and even Darryl Dawkins would be expected to show up. John Gabriel, before he would become General Manager, was the director of scouting at that point.


It had been a week since the Magic won the NBA Draft Lottery, but Shaq still wasn't talking to anyone. Since Shaq would obviously be that #1 pick, other NBA teams were rumored to be offering some hefty packages with big named players. Tim Povtak isn't one to just randomly throw out garbage.

Again, I consider him the most respectable sportswriter to ever come through the Orlando Sentinel. So I believe him when names like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Mitch Richmond, or Tim Hardaway was possible trade bait. Obviously we'd hold onto that pick to draft Shaq, and well, we'd know what Hakeem would do to us in the '95 Finals.



Two years had nearly passed, and the pain of no Shaq in Orlando was still lingering. So of course Shaq didn't kill the rumors of a possible return for the '99-'00 season, before he would win those 3 straight championships for the Lakers (UGH!). No surprise that Tim Povtak wrote this solid piece. Keep in mind, it never was a likely scenario.



Today is Tracy McGrady's birthday (Also my best friend's) and I'm sure his birthday was a little bit better to have seen General Manager John Weisbrod resign from his position. After all, it was JW who sent McGrady packing after Orlando had its worst season in franchise history in '03-'04.

That would be quite a summer. The Magic would trade "Me Mac" to Houston for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. Then, in that '04 Draft we'd see Weisbrod (With help from assistant front office men Otis Smith and Dave Twardzik) take Dwight Howard instead of Emeka Okafor (Who was the 'safe' choice) #1. Then grab a future All-Star PG in Jameer Nelson in a trade with the Denver Nuggets. The hockey guy who supposedly knew nothing ended up putting us on the path to where we are to this day.

It came down to the envelope that had been sitting on Weisbrod's desk. It contained a new contract proposal from the Magic. Weisbrod just stared at it for three days and couldn't bring himself to open it.

"I really got convicted about the fact that if I were to sign another contract and stay here, that perhaps that wouldn't be in the best interest of the organization," he said.
Weisbrod is gone, but he will not soon be forgotten. Weisbrod, 36, rocketed up the RDV Sports management chain, going from the general manager of the Orlando Solar Bears in 1997 to Magic chief operating officer.

Along the way, he fired two coaches and engineered the trade of Tracy McGrady in a massive roster realignment. The Magic improved from 21 to 36 wins this season, but they fizzled down the stretch and didn't make the playoffs.

That led to the search for a new coach, which should officially end today with the hiring of Brian Hill. Weisbrod's blunt style alienated some, but Magic officials said it was not an issue with any of the coaching candidates.

"I didn't leave because of adversity or disagreement," Weisbrod said. "My decision had nothing to do with the coaching search process. It's a coincidence that it's happening at the same time."

The Magic are also preparing for the June 28 draft, and there's the ongoing arena issue. Weisbrod essentially said he is having a mid-life hockey crisis and didn't feel he could commit himself fully to the Magic.

"It's not in the best interest of the organization of having a GM that, in his heart, would trade three NBA championships for one Stanley Cup," he said.

Weisbrod has played hockey at Harvard and never hid his love for the sport. He plans to pursue openings in the National Hockey League, which is currently embroiled in a player lockout. His management style with the Magic mirrored his disciplined, confrontational hockey upbringing.

"The organization needed a bulldozer," Weisbrod said. "I feel like I had the personality and thick enough skin to do that."

Thank you John, for having the testicular fortitude to kick a whining, quitting superstar to the curb and to leave a franchise in a much better place than it was when you took control. We went from dead to on the road to recovery, and the salvaging of a team in this city.



My friends and I did a Fire Brian Hill campaign around late 2006. Never did I think it would come true so quickly (Yes, it involved Taco Bell. No, I won't discuss it further). The Magic had just made the playoffs for the first time since the heart breaker against Detroit in 2003. Unfortunately, the Pistons would sweep us in '07 and our frustrations with them would continue for a few more years after that. B-Hill was the right choice his first season with us.

He brought that experience we were lacking as far as coaching went. But clearly, he had lost whatever he had going for him in the mid-'90s and he just looked like an angry, clueless, old man who didn't know how to connect with these young players. Our offense had moments, but it was just bad basketball to watch. Then, the godsend, Stan Van Gundy would eventually come and the rest is history.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tree Rollins: Orlando's Only True Double-Double Man

Wayne Monte 'Tree' Rollins doesn't get mentioned anymore by anyone other than the occasional diehard Magic fan or an NBA historian. He's still the only Orlando Magic employee to ever be both a Magic active player and a coach simultaneously. Never mind the fact that there are few athletes in all sports that have done both duties at the same time in not just one season, but 2.

Rollins goes down as a true workman who didn't stuff stat sheets. He wasn't an offensive juggernaut and never attempted a 3-pointer in his 18-season career. He never won a championship and he won't ever hear whispers for him to make the Hall of Fame. Tree has one claim to fame. Rollins is 8th all-time in NBA shots blocked, and he'll stay in the top 10 for at least a few more years.

The reason it was an 18-season career instead of sixteen is because of the Magic not having anyone suitable or healthy enough to fill Shaq's shoes the few minutes he wasn't in the game. Because of big men injuries, Brian Hill told his assistant coach to be ready to lace his sneakers up again.

The then 38-year-old began getting back into shape in October of '93 and was signed to a 10-day contract in January of 1994. Eventually, Tree would be signed for the rest of that season and playoffs.

When he wasn't on the court, Rollins still held a clipboard and coached guys such as Shaq. Even though he didn't play much or that well, the team decided to not depend on Greg Kite, Geert Hammink, Larry Krystkowiak, or Keith Tower healing up or being good enough to fill the backup center position. So Tree got the nod again to be both a coach and a player for the '94-'95 season:

''If it's OK with Brian (Hill) and the management here, I'm leaning toward doing the same thing I did last season,'' Rollins said Wednesday. ''There are a lot of variables involved. And it might not be firmed up until right before the season begins, but I wouldn't mind playing some more.''

Rollins retired last summer after a 16-year NBA career, hoping to move into coaching with the Magic as a tutor for O'Neal. But after injuries to Greg Kite and Larry Krystkowiak left the Magic with little depth, Rollins decided to resume his playing career.

One 10-day contract early in January led to another, and then the Magic signed him for the rest of the season. His ability to play defense, block shots and rebound made him a more-than-adequate backup if his minutes could be limited.

Although his playoff performance was a little disappointing - and he looked his age against the young front line of the Pacers - that didn't erase what he had proved during the season. He is just as good or better than many of the backup centers in the league.

''Considering the circumstances, I felt like I was kind of effective,'' Rollins said. ''We had a void that I filled. I'll be in better shape next season. I've been working out now with the idea of playing again. I jumped into it last season when I really wasn't in playing shape. I'll be in better shape if I do it again.''

What could complicate the issue is that Rollins the player becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. A few teams have called his agent inquiring about his availability. He played for the pro-rated NBA minimum of $180,000 last season. But he also knows he wants a future in coaching, and Orlando still might be the best situation for him.
''People aren't exactly beating down my door,'' he said. ''And if I walk away now to play somewhere else, I might not be invited back to coach again. So that has to be factored into this.''

Unlike the season before, the Magic transformed from getting swept by the Pacers in the 1st Round, to being a title contender in '95. Tree's final game of the playoffs actually came in Indiana's Game 6 blowout win over Orlando. Rollins would suit up for the Magic's Game 7 destruction of Larry Brown and Reggie Miller's Pacers at the O-Rena but wouldn't step on the court.

Instead, you see him celebrating in his Magic warm-ups with clipboard in hand as the franchise and city moved on to their first trip to the NBA Finals. Again, Tree was available for the Finals but Brian Hill chose not to play him against a quick Hakeem Olajuwon as the Rockets would sweep Orlando. Rollins would have been 40-years-old had he played in that series, something few men of that age have accomplished. After that '95 season, Rollins officially retired and continued to be a Magic assistant for a few more years.

Unfortunately for the Clemson legend and Winter Haven native, due in large part to Tree's massive legal issues with his ex-wife, he never did fulfill his dream of becoming an NBA Head Coach. He did have a short stint in the NBDL and the WNBA, but we all know that's nothing compared to NBA competition and prestige. The only thing left for people to do now is commend the 55-year-old for a long and successful basketball career. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Richie Adubato - What Could Have Been

I always recommend all Magic fans, who are not able to watch the television telecast of games, to tune into AM 580 WDBO to listen to two great basketball minds in Richie Adubato and Dennis Neumann entertain the radio world. Whether it's their off topic banter or Richie knowing which refs are terrible and for how many years those refs have been terrible, they give Matt Guokas and David Steele (our tv men) a run for their money when it comes to good duos.

It's pretty amazing to think how close Richie Adubato was to becoming permanent Head Coach after a phenomenal interim job he did in '97 that led to one super dramatic 5-game series against the Miami Heat. The team was injured, mentally deflated, and plain sick and tired of Brian Hill. The players mutually agreed they wanted him gone, and Richie being the top assistant would be the band-aid up until the summer.

Then something amazing happened, the team went from a stiff and brittle system, to a free and open fast-paced style game that was necessary post-Shaq. A 21-12 record to finish the regular season and an almost improbable upset, being a couple of baskets short, almost occurring in the 1st Round and now Adubato was a serious contender to keep his job.

However, GM John Gabriel had long decided that he wanted to shell out millions of dollars on a big named coach. Phil Jackson, Rick Pitino, and of course Chuck Daly were all legitimate options. Rich DeVos, coming off a heart transplant, wanted Adubato to stick around.

Makes you wish DeVos was as active with the team back then as he is now. No BVW or Alex Martins to bash heads and intervene with Gabriel back then. Penny and most (if not all) of the Magic players wanted him to stay. When you get an endorsement by Pat Riley, you know you're doing something right:

Here's what Miami Heat coach Pat Riley had to say about the life of Richie: ''I've been to a lot of playoff games (220), and I don't think that I've been in a situation quite like this. I think we've all learned about character, heart, pride and greatness,'' Riley said of a short-handed but spirited Magic team that took the Heat to the close of Game 5 of the playoffs before losing, 91-83.

''What Penny Hardaway did in those two games in Orlando, and what other guys did stepping up, and what Richie did getting them ready, I haven't seen anything like that in a long time. They were absolutely great.''

For any other guy, having Riley put in a good word for you would be just about enough. But not for Richie. For any other guy, befuddling Riley with a makeshift lineup and making him squirm late in the rubber game would be just about enough to guarantee employment.

But not for Richie. And for any other guy, going 23-15 after a midseason player mutiny against a dear friend (Brian Hill) and receiving backing now from a majority of players would be just about enough. But . . .

Richie is a living asterisk. He's the Yeah, But Guy, as in ''Yeah, he's a great guy, but. . . . Yeah, he did an absolutely great job with that Magic team, but . . .''

Magic G.M. John Gabriel had that Yeah, But look on his face when asked about Richie's future. All he would say, basically, is that Adubato did a bang-up job in relief and would be a serious candidate.

Adubato had the balls to finally put Penny at SG and play the Michael Jordan role, while throwing out an untested Darrell Armstrong to push the tempo at PG. He shrugged off injury after injury to half of his squad: Horace Grant, Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott, Derek Strong, Rony Seikaly. He made Gerald Wilkins into a great scoring option at the tail end of his career, while also somehow making Danny Schayes a factor against studs a dozen years younger than him like Alonzo Mourning and P.J. Brown. But, all of that was overlooked to bring in a big name coach in Chuck Daly.

Chuck Daly was dealt a really bad hand in the '97-'98 season. Penny Hardaway only partook in 19 games at the start of that mediocre 41-41 season. Daly's 2nd, and last, season was much better. Penny got to heal up thanks to the Lockout and the team went 33-17 before being tortured by Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in 4 playoff games. Daly couldn't do the job anymore though and that was the end of his NBA coaching career.

Orlando would go into rebuilding mode, giving Doc Rivers 4 seasons of lots of ups and downs and roster revamps. It makes you wonder how the fortunes of the Magic would have gone had we held onto Adubato. The WNBA would have the honor of having Richie's coaching services. For now though, just enjoy Richie Adubato for all the hilarious one-liners he has up his sleeve. The man's randomness is pure genius.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Any Chance Dwight & Hakeem Can Combine Forces Again This Summer?

The results are in, and yeah, Hakeem 'The Dream' Olajuwon is a big reason why Dwight 'Superman' Howard had his best NBA season to date. Dwight's 7th season officially put to rest anyone who doubted his offensive capabilities. There's a good chance that Howard will increase on that 22.9 points per game come the 2011-2012 season. He was able to do it while not sacrificing his defensive intensity or numbers (See his 3rd straight Defensive Player of the Year).

Statistically, it's very difficult not to compare the two in their league dominance. Hakeem's 7th season came in 1990-1991. Throw out the free throw percentages (Dream- 76.9% v. Dwight- 59.6%) and the numbers are quite close. Dream shot a lot more jumpers in his career, so his field goal percentage of 50.8% looks mediocre compared to Howard's 59.3% in '10-'11. Everything else trends together.

Hakeem was able to play 18 years in this league, about 14 of those at a superstar/All-Star level. Obviously, Dream wins in the hardware department at this time. Olajuwon has his regular season and NBA Finals MVP awards, along with 2 back-to-back championship rings. Olajuwon also did it against the golden age of centers. Dream faced some of the best in Shaq, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing. Overall, Hakeem got the best of them.

The fact that Dwight came into the league 3 full years younger than Hakeem will help Howard in possibly cracking 20 seasons. He's also in a guard-dominated age of the game so his center competition has been few and far between. It would help if guys like Yao Ming, Greg Oden, and Andrew Bynum could stay healthy. Of course, Dwight has to continue staying healthy himself (and obviously win and accumulate awards and trophies) if he wants to continue his path of being recognized as one of the best big men in league history.

We've seen guys out of high school burn out quickly before (*cough* McGrady *cough*). Then again, Dwight is one physical freak of nature with shoulders that have literally hoisted this Magic franchise.

Most Magic fans have a reason to gripe about what Orlando assistant Patrick Ewing actually does with Dwight. Dwight had the fortune earlier in his career of having Clifford Ray show him the ropes, who would then mentor Kendrick Perkins and become a big reason why the Celtics won the championship a few years ago.

We can't really critique Ewing's coaching ability since we're not in the gym and locker room with them. It's no secret, Patrick has been wanting to become a Head Coach for years now, but no one seems to want to bite on even flirting with that chance. I see that as a red flag and it somewhat validates Chewing's critics.

Considering how fragile Dwight Howard's situation is when it comes to his impending free agency, I'd be curious what it would take to have Hakeem become a Magic assistant, or at least be Dwight's private coach.

For now though, all Dwight can do is continue his usual summer pattern of relaxation, excruciating hard practices and workouts, NBA league event and charity participation, and hopefully keep trying to improve on his free throws. Maybe we'll see the addition of a 3-point shot? Hopefully he can recruit some better players to Orlando, but that's all on the front office in the end.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On This Day, May 19th: Magic Prepare For Shaq, Horace & Nick The Stars, and Penny Apologizes



Barry Cooper had a nice piece on Shaq staying silent after it would be clear that the Magic (Who acquired the #1 pick through the Draft Lottery) would select him in the coming weeks. O'Neal's agent, Leonard Armato, was very calm about the situation and how Shaq and his family were looking forward to joining the franchise. However, there was still the worry of monetary commitment and Shaq possibly not entering the Draft at all.

Brian Schmitz made a good point when he mapped out the importance of picking Shaq in the '92 Draft. Yes, it would be a hefty price, but it was clear what that it would be well worth the future playoff success to come. Orlando would know longer be under the shadow of Disney.



Nick Anderson overcame a lot to come up big in Orlando's Game 6 road victory (and series clincher) in the 2nd round of those playoffs over Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Nick had a poor Game 4 and 5, and his father was thrown out of his home with his belongings on the streets. Nick got it together and showed toughness on both ends of the court when the squad needed it. The team finished their triumphant win on a 14-0 run in an epic comeback that was strongly influenced by Anderson.

However, despite Nick's personal woes, Horace Grant was the bigger story. He literally was the reason why Orlando won the series. Not Shaq, and not Penny. Ho Grant had a phenomenal first 5 games of that series before a bad pinky hampered his Game 6 performance, with Grant sitting out the end of the contest. Horace would get carried off the court by the team after the buzzer sounded, something Chicago fans were not happy about.

''I felt 10 feet tall out there,'' Grant said. ''I didn't have a very good game, but they (teammates) had my back covered. This feels great. To come back here and win brings me tremendous satisfaction.''

Grant sustained possible ligament damage in his left little finger, chasing him off the court in pain in the third quarter. He played his worst game of the series, ineffective much of the way. He asked out of the game in the closing minutes.

Yet it was a wonderful night for him.

He played 37 minutes, hit 2-of-8 shots for six points and had six rebounds, but it felt like a 20-point, 20-rebound performance to him. When the game ended, Grant was hoisted up on the shoulders of his teammates, and he raised his arms victoriously. Some of the Chicago fans booed. He waved happily.

''I was looking for (Bulls General Manager) Jerry Krause,'' he said. ''There's something I wanted to tell him.''

The Bulls' Michael Jordan had something to say after the game, too. Asked what the Bulls would need to rebuild and get back into the championship round, Jordan said, ''We're a Horace Grant away.''

Grant left the Bulls this summer after seven seasons and a bitter dispute with Krause. Grant felt the Bulls' management never appreciated his contributions though the championship years. That feeling simmered through this season.

He signed with the Magic as a free agent in September, touted as the missing link for a young and talented team that badly needed his rebounds, defense, leadership and championship know-how. Through much of the series, he looked like the key component, something the Bulls were lacking and something the Magic had.

''He was our MVP in this series,'' Magic center Shaquille O'Neal said. ''This win was for Horace. He was the key to this team. He was hitting shots, getting rebounds, playing with a broken finger. He was big throughout this series. He deserves this.''

Grant averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds and 70 percent shooting through the first five games of the series. While the Magic's young stars went up and down through the series, he was their steadiest player.

''He doesn't have a shoe contract, or a rap album, but he's the man,'' O'Neal said. ''He proved through this series how valuable he is to us.''



The end of the road for another Orlando superstar was near. Penny's relationship with the organization, community, and of course the media had been strained long enough after 3 rough years post-Shaq. Even after all of that, Hardaway still wanted to live and play in the same place that wanted him gone. He even called the Sentinel to proclaim his frustrations. This isn't a McGrady situation, the man didn't quit. Period.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pat Williams and The Greatness of The 1993 Draft Lottery

With the 2011 NBA Lottery starting in just a few hours, I feel it's appropriate to honor the Orlando Magic's lucky charm, former General Manager Pat Williams. Some familiar faces such as Don Nelson, Bernie Bickerstaff, and the now deceased Abe Pollin were on hand to hopefully provide the magical touch needed to get the '93 top draft spot. Dallas was favored to win with Minnesota second. Orlando had 1 ping pong ball out of 66, and that little sucker managed to defy the odds and land the Magic the number 1 pick.

Don Nelson must have known something was up as you clearly see him giving the 'Sorry folks, Pat did it again' shrug during the introductions. Warriors went from the projected #7 spot, to #3 so all was well in California. Then of course on Draft Daywe all know what would happen as Golden State gave up their #3 pick (Penny Hardaway) and 3 future 1st round draft picks for our #1 selection (Chris Webber). I'm not going to debate or go any further on the players resulting from those draft picks, or play the 'what if' game on a Shaq-Webber frontcourt.

It's quite enjoyable starting exactly at the 4-minute mark. Detroit gets royally screwed from the get-go, Stern is already chuckling in disbelief that Pat already got us somehow into the top 3. If you watch the clip, obviously top prospects like Webber, Shawn Bradley, Penny, Jamal Mashburn, and Rodney Rodgers were up for grabs. So obviously, Pat had reason to celebrate at that point. Half the lottery teams got screwed basically.

The second-by-second reactionary emotions are top notch right to the culmination of Pat Williams looking like Christmas came 6 months early. Heck, Pat Williams is so lucky that he brought the Sixers along with him and got Philly the #2 pick (Not their fault Shawn Bradley became, well Shawn Bradley). Then the man love between Pat and Bob Costas is priceless.

So here's to you Pat, we Magic fans forever salute everything you've done and continue to accomplish with this franchise. Best wishes in your continued fight against cancer.

On This Day, May 17th: Orlando Becoming Magic Fans, 3-D Honored, and Shaq's Heart Problem



You could always depend on Jerry Greene for an off-the-wall article. Greene decided to share with the community his preparation for how life would be like with an NBA franchise. From his home, Jerry did his best to simulate an in-game experience at Amway Arena starting in the Fall. Definitely worth a read.



Dennis Scott had a great Orlando Magic career, up until he went berserk at one of his youth basketball camps. But way before that, 3-D was honored by the league in being named to the All-NBA Rookie Team.

''I'm kind of surprised, actually,'' Scott said Thursday from Atlanta, where he was visiting friends. ''But we finished strong, and that certainly helped me. It was quite a transition from the college game.''

Scott, who was the fourth player selected in the 1990 college draft, set an NBA record for most 3-point field goals for a rookie, hitting 125 of 334 (.374), which ranked him 11th in the league in percentage.

He ranked third among rookies in scoring, averaging 15.7 points. Coleman, the No. 1 pick in the draft, led rookies in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and rebounding (10.3 rpg). He also blocked 99 shots.

Simmons, the seventh pick of the draft, also made a big impact in his first season, averaging 18 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4 assists. He and Coleman both scored 42 points in a single game.

Brown, the 19th selection in the draft from Jacksonville University, was the only one of the five who played for a winning team. Although he didn't become a starter like the other four, he played a big role in the success of the Celtics, coming off the bench to provide much-needed quickness in the backcourt.

''The one thing I learned from my first year is that every team has some great players, guys like Dee Brown who you might not know much about,'' Scott said. ''You face great players every night.''

Probably the big eye-catching name is Gary Payton, who only made it onto the second team (Felton Spencer sighting!). Dennis Scott now works for NBA TV alongside guys like Steve Smith, and can be found on Twitter.



Shaquille O'Neal had himself a little scare going into the immensely hyped Eastern Conference Final showdown between the Magic and Michael Jordan's revenge seeking Chicago Bulls. Shaq underwent some intense tests to see what was wrong with his heart after the Magic easily dispatched of the Atlanta Hawks in the previous round.

The original Superman passed all of those tests with flying colors and the issue would be ignored. Makes you wonder though what Shaq's mental status would be considering Orlando got swept. His field goal percentages and scoring looked fine. Shaq's blocking and rebound numbers were low, and O'Neal's free throw shooting was especially atrocious (He shot under 15% in two of the four games). Just something to ponder as Shaq would never dawn a Magic pinstripe jersey again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fran Vazquez - The Final Countdown

I mentioned Milovan Rakovic last week, so of course Fran Vazquez deserves a legitimate posting as well. Those two men are the only international prospects the Magic have the rights to right now. Believe it or not, Fran just turned 28 years-old at the start of this month of May. That puts better into perspective how far away that 2005 Draft really was.

Fran doesn't have to score to be effective. Blocks and rebounds are more than enough for him to be a contributor on our team. He doesn't have a fragile body either, even though he's still quite lanky. The guy is quick for a big man but not fast, yet he can make some stunning highlight reel plays. When he does score, it's usually off of offensive rebounds and pick-and-rolls (Marcin Gortat anyone?) 

If he comes, there's no doubt he'll be Dwight's backup. Fran can't play PF. Not anymore. Yes you can occasionally put him alongside Dwight, but he really does prefer to be in the paint than shoot his jumper now (Which he can still knock down).

This is basically do or die for the Orlando front office to bring the Spaniard over. Fran had signed a 1-year extension last summer because he didn't want to fully commit himself to Barcelona. He's now free to go. The pending lockout is a nightmare situation and the potential final nail in the coffin. I've seen or read zero from Fran, his agent, or any media outlet that gives me any hope of him coming over. 

It's true that Fran would be taking a pay cut if he comes to Florida, unless GM Otis Smith wants to have more people hate him by handing Fran the MLE. People view it as a trade off to live the NBA dream. But Fran clearly isn't obligated to live out that dream based on his noncommittal behavior towards us and the NBA lifestyle. God knows what his wife (then girlfriend) wants/prefers. 

Bottom line: I think he'll either stay with Barca or sign with another top EuroLeague team. Any rumors of him coming over I see as just him working the European clubs and upping his price to stay on that continent. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Top 5 Best Lil' Penny Commercials Ever

Shown above you'll see the greatest NBA on NBC intro of them all, as one of the most famous puppets of television history brings the world into Game 1 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals between the Magic and Bulls. Now since it's not a commercial, it doesn't belong in this list. And oh boy what a difficult list this was. Nike has tried to duplicate this masterful creation with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but it just doesn't compare.

Youtube has over a dozen different ads of Penny Hardaway and Chris Rock (Lil' Penny) doing their banter. A lot of gems unfortunately had to be left off. There was a time where Lil' Penny was more well known than Mickey Mouse. So here we go:

#5: Japan Invasion
David Stern should hunt me down and give me a high five for finding this baby. The Commissioner will surely be known for one thing when he decides to step down, expanding the game internationally. Nike jumped on board with that approach as Lil' Penny made his trip to Japan as the Orlando Magic and New Jersey Nets entertained an audience halfway around the world in November of '96.

#4: This is SportsCenter
The only non-Nike ad on the list. Any time you can team up Lil' Penny with Gheorghe Muresan, laughs and epicness will be had. Also, you had a prime Stuart Scott (Yes, anchors have their primes as well), and Dan Patrick was his usual self. Also, this being a diversity commercial made it even more enjoyable.

#3: Super Bowl Party
If this wasn't the grainiest, low quality video of the lot it could have been higher on the list. This classic is pumped full of a lot of top notch athletes and celebrities that are still recognized to this day. There are so many big names in that clip that you watch it a few times and strain yourself to see which new person you may spot. Nike liked taking risks on young guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and Tiger Woods (Who said he never partied?).

#2: They Playin' Basketball
"The Secret Service couldn't guard me." A quote that would be repeated by on air personalities like Bob Costas for quite some time. It's Tyra Banks at her finest, it's Lil' Penny at his funniest, you have a great song still enjoyed today, and you have Penny cleaning the pool. An odd combo of success.

#1: Outdoor Court Edition
The production of this is ad is so artistic and shows pure brilliance. You also have your 3 most recognizable characters of the commercial's run: Penny, Lil', and Tyra. I really don't have to make much of a case for this to be #1.

On This Day, May 14th: The Dwight-Stan Clash, A Scared McGrady, and Magic Fan Plays Hooky




Magic fans were starting to get spoiled and bored at this point of the postseason as the team was on the verge of dismantling the Atlanta Hawks in the 2nd Round. So what better way to keep fan interest than a Paul Porter imitation contest?! Paul has been the Magic's Public Address Announcer from Day 1. He is regarded as one of the best the league has ever had.

He was able to announce the '92 All-Star Game and will announce next year's here in Orlando again (Barring lockout issues). Also going on that day in '96, was the revelation that one of the Orlando Magic's playoff ticket prize winners decided to stick around another day in Atlanta instead of attending work.



Here's one of Mike Bianchi's columns that pleads Tracy McGrady to miss out on the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Being Greek, I know when media overreacts over issues involving the country. Through English media being overtly skeptical about Greece's security (That eventually trickled across the Atlantic to U.S. media), many athletes of all sports were afraid of terrorist plots. After all, this was just less than 3 years after 9/11. One of those with doubts about heading over was Orlando's Tracy McGrady.

We all know what would happen. McGrady along with eight others from last year's FIBA Americas team would skip out on the trip, and the 2004 Team USA basketball squad would have a disaster of a campaign, finishing with bronze as Argentina (Led by Manu Ginobili) beat them and would claim the gold. The Games ended up being extremely safe with no repercussions or stadium building issues and are considered one of the best held Olympics ever. Had Tracy been on that squad, they may have won Gold. McGrady would regret that decision for the rest of his life as he'd never get a chance to bring home a medal.



On the verge of being eliminated by the Boston Celtics, the Magic were down 3-2 and heading back home for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semis. This was the first legitimate clashing between Dwight Howard and Head Coach Stan Van Gundy in regards to how to approach several facets of their game play.

So it was with this established understanding that the two leading Magic figures met amid a swirling controversy the morning after the Magic's 92-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the playoffs on Tuesday night.

Howard complained about not getting the ball enough ("You got a dominant player, let him be dominant.") and questioned some of Van Gundy's late-game strategy, his comments sending the talk-shows and Twitters all atwitter.

The Magic planned to take the day off until Howard aired his beefs so publicly for the first time in his five-year career, on a playoff stage. They decided to gather and deal with the issue, considering the real drama unfolds tonight at Amway Arena.

Trailing the Boston Celtics 3-2 in the series, the Magic play a win-or-go-home Game 6, looking to force a Game 7 on Sunday in Beantown.

Howard and Van Gundy talked before the team meeting, and they each said everything was cool.

Howard backed off his comments like a Michael Jackson moon-walk. But Van Gundy didn't back off of anything, defending his Xs and his Os and even lightly chastising Howard.

Van Gundy said he "didn't think [Howard's] energy level was as high [Tuesday night]. The only game in this series where he's played with great, great energy throughout was Game 3 in Orlando."

Howard: "Me and Stan. We talked. A great talk, actually. . . . I can't let my frustrations get to a level where I say anything. He understands that as a player, you can get frustrated . . . but at the same time I have to get ready for Game 6."

As it (THANK YOU GOD) turned out, the 'meeting' would prove to be a success. Orlando would return to Amway Arena and win Game 6. I'll leave it there as we all know the turnaround this team began. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Best Orlando Magic Mid-'90s Video Compilation Ever

Talk about a Youtube clip in massive need of hits. This gem has been around a while now, and I think every Magic fan (Well, at least anyone over the age of 13) should at least watch it once just to get a reminder of how energetic and fun the style of play back then was. 


Yes Magic fans, we still have Milovan Rakovic's rights. Dallas had drafted the Serbian with the last pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Otis Smith swooped in and bought his rights. The reason to remember this guy is because the Fran Vazquez situation seems far from salvageable at this point as the Spaniard wants to stay in Europe. The Magic need backup bigs and fast. Malik Allen and Daniel Orton can not be depended on. 

Rakovic is not that young though. He's 26-years-old and still has 2 years left on a 3-year deal with Siena. Whether he has a buyout on that deal, I'm not aware of, but it's definitely worth exploring. Rak Attack definitely has his NBA dream.

His team Siena was in the EuroLeague Final Four (Huge deal in case you don't know) before they were knocked off by Panathinaikos, who took the title less than a week ago. Funny enough, Orlando native Nick Calathes is the reason why PAO beat Siena. Milovan has progressively improved each year since we acquired him. He really can be deemed a hybrid of Marcin Gortat and Carlos Boozer. Guys is just a bull and I hope we see him in Magic pinstripes soon.

On This Day, May 13th: Tiny Team Salaries, Daly's Traffic Patterns, and Billy Donovan



The Orlando Magic, as you all may know, have been over the salary cap for several years now. Owner Rich DeVos has admitted he'll pay whatever it takes to hoist an NBA championship as he recognizes he doesn't have many years left. Just 18 years ago, the NBA salary cap was $15 million. That's it. And even then we were pushing the cap boundaries as our salary was around $17 million. Dwight Howard, Gilbert Arenas, Vince Carter, and Rashard Lewis each all make more than that in a season.



Chuck Daly. The most revered and highly respected coach in Orlando Magic history. Coach Daly was coming to the end of his glorious NBA road as Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers just had our number back then. Larry Guest got to have the honor of riding to Amway Arena with Chuck. Daly, in 2 short seasons as Magic Head Coach, really had become a master of dodging bad downtown traffic. Daly would retire not long after that piece. He would succumb almost exactly a decade later at age 78.



I think Stan Van Gundy could use some glowing support right now, which is what he received from Billy Donovan on the tail end of Stan's first season steering the Orlando ship:

"As far as getting that team to take the next step, I don't think there's any question Stan Van Gundy was the right coach for the job," Donovan said from his office in Gainesville. "You have to have a level of humility in this situation and face facts. And the facts are Billy Donovan has never coached an NBA game in his life. There was obviously going to be a learning curve for me. The job Stan has done this year has been phenomenal, and the job he did with the Miami Heat doesn't get talked about enough."

The Donovan debacle seems like a harmless and humorous practical joke now when viewed through the prism of Van Gundy leading the Magic to their most successful season in more than decade. Time may not heal all wounds, but 52 wins, a division title and the first playoff series win in a dozen years certainly does.

It was nearly a year ago when the Magic seemed as if they were in utter disarray. President Bob Vander Weide and GM Otis Smith had just fired Brian Hill -- for the second time -- and then watched in disbelief as their incredible Donovan coup blew up in their faces.

In the span of 24 hours, Donovan went from former Gators coach to current Magic coach to former Magic coach to current Gators coach.

As it turns out, the consolation prize was better than the grand one. Now that the Magic have Stan the Man they can laugh about Billy's willies.

"I can say now it's great that it happened the way it did, but back then, I wouldn't want to put anybody through those 72 hours," Vander Weide said. "It was crazy."

As for Donovan, he claims he has not second-guessed himself a single time, even though he has been the butt of a million jokes in the past year.

Back in the summer of '07, Otis Smith had chosen the new successor of Brian Hill, in Billy Donovan. Donovan was looked upon as a god for the championships he'd won with the Florida Gators. Otis tapped his shoulder and Billy accepted the job. About 24 hours later, he'd change his mind and resign. Talk about pure humiliation for Otis and the franchise. 

So it came as a surprise to many that we still managed to salvage things by grabbing Stan Van Gundy just a few days later. The former Miami Heat Assistant and Head Coach was supposedly the Sacramento Kings' top target. Somehow the Magic were able to persuade Stan in taking the position. The results speak for themselves, 4 seasons of competitive basketball, culminated so far by an '09 Finals trip. 

This upcoming 2011-2012 season will truly be the first in which Stan Van Gundy will be in the hot seat to turn the team's fortunes around and hopefully help keep Dwight Howard in town. 

Why Dwight And Penny Should Chat

People like to compare Dwight Howard to Shaquille O'Neal as far as their careers have gone. I tend to look at things a bit differently. I think Dwight could greatly benefit from having a sitdown with another former superstar and Orlando icon, Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway. Shaq never had to deal with the Magic's struggles as a lone superstar. He had Penny on his side.

Same thing can't be said for Mr. Hardaway who, from 1996 until he got traded to the Phoenix Suns in the summer of 1999, had the weight of the world on his shoulders in trying to keep a clearly inadequate team a championship contender. Unfortunately for Penny, his body physically couldn't take it as well as Dwight has thankfully managed to do so far. For 3 years, the usually mild-mannered, composed Penny was transformed into a supposed diva by the Orlando Sentinel writing staff. Then you have Head Coach Stan Van Gundy and General Manager Otis Smith potentially being in the hot seats come this upcoming season. You can somewhat compare it to Brian Hill and General Manager John Gabriel.

Once Shaq left, from fall of '96 on, the Sentinel guys were riding Penny hard (Way worse than McGrady levels since they learned off of the Penny debacle). It progressively got worse with B-Hill's magic running out as a coach and Penny's injuries. Penny gets the sole blame for B-Hill being fired when he was just speaking for the entire team. The entire roster knew they needed to become a fast-paced team, rather than the slowed down squad they were with Shaq.

Horace Grant and Brian Shaw were as much leaders in the locker room as Penny was. Several team meetings would be had before the cord was cut. Cue the community getting super pissed as the Sentinel portrayed Penny as a little bitch and you begin the downward spiral and growing of disdain for one of the league's best players. That tactic wouldn't fly today as the reality would have been exposed through various other media outlets. The truth isn't really known until Penny was long gone (Ho Grant speaking up more, as well as other former Magic team officials and players finally opening up their mouths).

Penny became outspoken to survive basically and hope the team around him would improve. It's the same frustration Dwight exudes now. That '96-'00 period is where the front office truly didn't know what route to go (Grasping at 'what could have been'), thus the product started going down the toilet with Penny being one of the scapegoats.

John Gabriel's ineptitude as a professional and talent evaluator also doesn't truly get exposed until he got fired way longer than he should have. Gabriel had no issues throwing Brian Hill under the bus, and then Penny as he realized the local media was doing him huge favors. People say Otis Smith doesn't draft players well, but he's godly compared to John Gabriel's track record.

We also really wouldn't truly find out about Brian Hill being a stubborn old prick until his 2nd run with us. Same story different decade. The guy refused to change his ways. People think Stan Van Gundy doesn't change up lineups, rotations, etc., but he's no where near the level where B-Hill was as far as shutting himself off from the rest of the world went.

Penny had little to no issues with Richie Adubato (Obviously because he was saintly compared to B-Hill, but he was also a great coach) in the phenomenal half season turnaround post-Brian Hill. Scott Skiles had advised B-Hill back in '94 to play Penny as a SG. Fast forward 3 years to '97 and Adubato was finally letting Hardaway become the next Michael Jordan. It also helped that Richie had faith in Darrell Armstrong handling the point guard reins.

Chuck Daly could have done wonders with a healthy Penny, but he never had that opportunity and only put out a decent product in the end (Which was understandable considering what little he had to work with).

It's kind of why the '97 Miami Heat series gets brought up as people really don't remember how much pressure Penny had on him to perform. He performed a mini-miracle as Doc Rivers and Verne Lundquist could attest. We had gotten absolutely obliterated in those first 2 games in Miami as we were well on the verge of being swept for a 4TH STRAIGHT SEASON IN A ROW! Injuries and age had caught up to the team (Let alone lack of talent). Horace Grant, Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson, Rony Seikaly, and Derek Strong were all at one point or another wiped out with injuries.

From Games 3 through 5, Danny Schayes was the only Magic man over 6'8" playing in games. Gerald Wilkins was the 3rd best player at times for the men in pinstripes, that's how depleted the squad was. Also in those games, Anfernee played 47 minutes OR MORE in each game. Dwight Howard knew how that felt this season. Penny was also trying to keep his mass media and commercial appeal alive. He still had that future 'MJ' label on him with Grant Hill about to enter his prime. Of course the Lil' Penny commercials were still running rampant and very popular.

We almost complete an improbable comeback against Miami, and though he'd have a few more years in town before both parties really couldn't take it anymore, Penny's prime ended right there in the summer of '97.

Penny's one true mistake throughout all of this came in the '97-'98 season. Hardaway played only the first quarter of the season (19 games), and was knocked out for the rest of the season. However, in what we'd see down the road with guys like Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Yao Ming, and Shaq was that the fans still voted Penny Hardaway to start in the All-Star Game.

To appease the fans, Penny suited up. The Orlando community was left with a sour taste in their mouth as #1 wouldn't play another game that season. Then you have the lockout shortened '98-'99 season. Of course 'comments' and 'words' were exchanged by both sides that weren't pretty throughout the ordeal, but it comes with the territory of ending an era. Divorces are never pretty. Then Gabriel cleaned house for one year of Heart & Hustle before we'd make our big splashes in the summer of 2000.

The Sentinel won't ever admit it, but they are a massive reason why the community will never accept Penny back. Ever. And it's a damn shame considering guys like Shaq and even McGrady can walk around town with less backlash. Penny tried to make it work here and got massively burned in the end. The Sentinel helped break the man. Penny still loves this city and franchise. On the rare occasion he does a mass media interview (Which is around playoff time it seems like), he's always wishing the team good luck and saying how much he loves the community.

Here's a fan message proving my point from April 27, 1997:


I TAKE great exception to the column written by George Diaz stating that Penny Hardaway has a lot to learn from Chris Webber. First of all, the Sentinel continues to bash the only major sports team in town.

Many people will agree that you and your fellow columnists had at least a little to do with Shaq's departure. Keep it up, and Penny is sure to follow!

Penny Hardaway is self-sacrificing, humble and a team player who doesn't ask for any special priviledges. He hasn't spent any seasons as a disgruntled player, demanding a trade, and hasn't missed most of a season because of an injured shoulder received in a fight. I don't hear about any on- or off-the-court antics being pulled by Penny. Personally, I am proud to have him playing in Orlando and proud to have him as an example for my children.

As far as ''whining'' goes, I would be concerned if Penny and the other Magic players weren't frustrated with this season. True, it has been painful for both players and fans to lose Shaq, but true Magic fans will stick with the team through this rebuilding process. Don't get me wrong, I'll take Rony Seikaly over Shaq and his arrogant attitude any day!

I just hope that Penny and his Magic teammates know that many, many fans do not share the sentiments of their ''hometown'' columnists and that we are with them all the way.

If you disagree with my assessment, that's fine, you're entitled to. My viewpoint is based on my years following him as a kid, all the way through the early-mid 2000s when the truth was coming out through radio interviews.

He's my basketball idol because of all the good and bad he went through. He's also an idol to guys like LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Amar'e Stoudemire, and countless others who were inspired by his pure heart and style of play.

If Dwight Howard and Penny Hardaway can't have a sitdown or even call each other, then they should at least do some Twitter direct messaging. As much as I even hate admitting it, Orlando can very well be seeing deja vu and I just believe that Dwight would benefit from someone who has been through it all in the past and who has actually been in those rare shoes.

P.S. If Penny was any type of outspoken and self-promoting man, he'd have WAY more than 5,000 Twitter followers.