If you go to a specific 24-Hour Fitness in town during this work stoppage, you'll occasionally see guys like Dwight Howard, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Gilbert Arenas, and other famous basketball players participate in pick-up games with average gym members. The same thing occurred at the RDV Sportsplex 13 years ago. Penny, Bo, and Nick were among the usual Magic men who scrimmaged there. Read more to see even more famous names as I'm only posting a small portion. It really is a dream scenario for any diehard fan.
Mike Dalfonso has a new playmate.
Maybe you've heard of him. About 6 feet 7 inches tall. Has an impish alter ego. Currently looking for work. Friends call him Penny.
Dalfonso, the 43-year-old owner of an industrial supplies company, has hooked up on a real Dream Team.
While rush-hour traffic squeezes commuters along Interstate 4, a handful of accountants, lawyers, consultants and students are playing out their wildest Walter Mitty fantasies on a basketball court at the RDV Sportsplex in Maitland.
Running the court with Penny Hardaway. Checking Nick Anderson as he drives toward the basket. Battling with Bo Outlaw underneath the boards. Trying to maintain eye contact with the frenetic, hip-hop Jason Williams.
Locked out by the NBA and with nowhere to go, professional players with local ties are bonding with their extended Orlando family to get in a good run of 5-on-5.
It has been a wonderful public relations coup for our millionaires in labor limbo, who have reached out to make friends and help break down perceptions of their petulant image.
``It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing,'' Dalfonso said. ``A real thrill. You get some people who would pay to play with all-stars and players like this. ... This is pretty much unheard of.''
With the NBA lockout barring them from using the team's practice facility inside the RDV complex, the Magic players mingle with members in the two open courts inside the health club portion of the facility to stay in some semblance of shape. Although better ``runs'' are available in Houston and Los Angeles, where a greater number of professionals work and play, most local players are doing the economical and logical thing by driving their Range Rovers, Beamers and Navigators to Maitland for 2 or 3 hours of pickup ball.
Anderson and Outlaw are regulars in the mix of 30-some-odd players. Williams, the former Florida point guard who was the seventh pick in the NBA draft, has been coming since summer. Toronto Raptors guard Dee Brown and Hardaway hooked up last week.
Raptors rookie Vince Carter of Daytona Beach recently became a regular. Dennis Scott and Shaquille O'Neal (oh, get over it) have made a few cameo appearances. (``Yo, Harry, you check him'').
Their running mates are an eclectic mix of basketball junkies whose ages span from 18 to 62, and whose level of expertise runs the gamut of college and high school experience to earthbound clumsiness.
THE WORKING CLASS
Cue in Paul Porter. Stand and cheer, for your Orlannnndooo Magic Lockout Squad: Pete Sansouci, a 38-year-old who works in industrial sales. Brian Fucile, 38, who played at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Roni ``Ronlando'' Elias, a stocky 18-year-old who is a freshman at the University of Central Florida. Bill Branner, a 62-year-old business consultant from Winter Park. Rick Skogen, a 40-year-old business printing consultant.
Danny Anderson, a 43-year-old assigned to Humana's workers compensation services.
Hopefully, Danny Anderson's health plan covers industrial-strength pain killers. He had to match up against Carter for one game.
``I'll need about three or four Advil later,'' Anderson said afterward. ``I can't even talk, I'm so out of shape. My back will be hurting next morning, I can assure you.
``But it's been worth it. When you travel around people say, `Oh, you play ball. `Yeah I was playing with Nick Anderson and Penny Hardaway last night.' They say, `What are you talking about?'''
Basic rules of pickup basketball apply: Winner has to score 15 baskets in increments of 1, though a shot from beyond the 3-point arc counts for 2 points. Teams stay on the court as long as it wins. Players call their own fouls. Teams are determined by sign-up order on a chalkboard, though a bit of creative editing needs to be monitored daily by an RDV employee. Seems that some guys are inclined to ``vaporize'' other players from the board for a chance to run the court with Nick or Penny.
You'd be tempted, too. Let's see, team up with Hardaway, one of the most creative players in professional basketball, or Phil the produce manager at the local grocery store?
Other than an occasional mishap in the pecking order, the experience has been exhilarating for many of the Happy Hour regulars.
``I never thought I would get to play against these guys,'' Elias said. ``The closest I thought I'd get would be the O-rena or TV.''
This strange brew of full-court basketball is as perplexing as Zsa Zsa and Liz slumming for shoes at Kmart, or The Donald piling on the macaroni and cheese in the buffet line at Golden Corral.
It's actually two games in one. Professionals usually match up against each other, while those who are vertically challenged guard each other. Most of the NBA guys are careful not to drive to the basket unless their path is unimpeded (the improvisational Williams and no-fear Carter are exceptions). Their worlds often collide anyway, given the bumpy nature of the game and screens that force defensive switches.