Sunday, March 25, 2012
My Personal Bond with Amway Arena
Don't say it didn't implode without a fight. The Sentinel put together a very nice story on the building demolition. Call it the Orlando Arena, The O-Rena, TD Waterhouse Centre, or Amway Arena, it's all good. Just don't call it a piece of crap. Despite its bad and outdated design flaws, the O-Rena was a perfect place to watch a basketball game. Or any sporting event for that matter. Having a lack of amenities and distractions leads one to actually focus on the game ensuing in front of them. The new Amway Center is finding it difficult in keeping fans in their seats during in-game action. It worried me last postseason and it'll continue to be the case in the future. Bigger isn't always better.
I was born on May 30, 1988. Amway Arena would officially be opened half a year later. When I look back on all the Magic, Orlando Predators, Orlando Solar Bears, non-sporting events, and school ceremonies I've attended, I've physically spent, minimum a few years of my life in and around Amway Arena. Not to mention a few $$$, all well worth it. That's pretty cool in my eyes, and it can bond a man to a structure more than most people they'll encounter. It's why some people want to be buried near a stadium or have their ashes thrown onto the field of play. I'll just focus my dedication to the boys in blue and white. After all, this is a Magic blog.
I've seen the good, bad, and ugly moments in this franchise's history. A lot of those live. I've seen some wicked halftime and timeout entertainment acts (Quick Change!!!). I've seen people kill themselves for a t-shirt or to do dumb things on the jumbotron. I've seen several different Stuff mascots. I've seen the Fat Guy run a marathon around the court. I've begged that Scotty B be fired more times than any human alive. I've also demanded a Paul Porter shrine be created more times than any human alive. I've seen Sweater Vest Guy yell at dozens of officials without knowing them by name. I've seen hundreds of spats and fights involving Magic fans and whatever fake fanbase is in town for that evening. Cheerleaders, coaches, and players have come and gone. I've seen players develop and age right along with me. I've been in an actual auction item of the O-Rena. I've toured and visited the entire structure from its most public areas to the heart and guts of the structure. Celebrities of all notoriety have sat in those rusted red and black chairs. The same seats that myself and many others were staring out at that beautiful parquet court.
I was there when the #2 seed Magic during the '99 Lockout season pissed away their home court advantage to an up and coming Sixers squad. I've seen Rony Seikaly get stretchered, carried, dragged off the court more times than any kid should have to. My only time as a season ticket holder was in the 2003-2004 season. Seriously. I survived that with a smile still on my face. That's why I can be so optimistic about just about anything.
I was there in February 2003 when the Magic had that epic comeback victory against the Hornets. Unless you were at that game, odds are you don't remember a second from that contest. Many people just recall it being Mike Miller's final game in an Orlando uniform. The Florida Gator also played all 48 minutes. Strange considering how injury-riddled his career was and still is now.
Looking back at the '03-'04 21-win season where I got to see everything in person, we went from almost pulling off the improbable in knocking off the top-seeded Pistons to choking, having Drew Gooden lose his mind with the signing of Juwan Howard, Doc Rivers and Horace Grant having their falling out, the crazy coaching carousel beginning, and Tracy McGrady going from a hero to a goat all in one year. However, there were still bright spots to be had. Gordan Giricek becoming a god for one night, ending Orlando's 19-game losing streak to the Suns. There was the legendary McGrady-LeBron Christmas Day showdown that saw Bill Walton at his announcing best and Juwan being clutch in overtime. Of course we can't forget T-MAC's 62 points against the Wizards.
The closest I ever sat for a Magic game was on April 15, 2006. We were coming to the end of Dwight's Sophomore season and Brian Hill had the Magic in the hunt for an 8th seed. That night against the Sixers, Howard became a man. I knew after seeing that 28-point, 26-rebound phenomenal exhibition of athleticism, guts, heart, and talent that Dwight would be a superstar one day. Glad to see I got that one correct. That's still the most effort I've ever seen D12 put into a game. That's a very underrated victory in franchise history. We also bucked the hauntings of Allen Iverson that evening. I sat a few rows in front of then Philly GM Billy King and his two random ladies. He had used his halftime stat sheet to write down his votes for regular season player awards. Notice 'Sheed got crossed out in favor of Dirk.
I remember driving to Amway Arena for Game 3 of the '08 playoff series against the Pistons, seeing the Mears bus carrying the Pistons to the arena, flipping off and honking at that bus and getting a priceless facial expression from Chauncey Billups. We won that game, our sole victory of that series. Makes me regret not finding that bus and repeating the same 'routine' for Game 4. Ah, to be a teenager again and able to get away with childish acts like that.
One of the best sports viewing moments of my life came on my 21st birthday. Game 6 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. I wasn't even in the building, but the entire city was buzzing and screaming with me. It's one of the biggest victories in Magic history, and one of the best performances in Dwight's career. It's also one of the most loudest times in the O-Rena's existence even from a televised perspective. Not as loud as some of those mid-'90s games when NBC would display the decibel levels, but still ridiculously noisy.
In the 1995 playoffs, we closed out the original Boston Garden on our way to our first NBA Finals. Guess what? We didn't allow the Celtics to return the favor. Amway Arena went out on a winning note. Not many stadiums in any sport can say that. And to think, I haven't even gone into specific player details or playoff runs, or even how the idea of an arena began or was even funded. Remember, Orlando had a tiny population 25 years ago compared to what it is now. David Stern and other league officials having faith in this Mickey Mouse town to maintain strong basketball support should never be ignored.
I have just so many memories that would take weeks to type out. 'Flash' Armstrong stealing the ball from Philly and scoring the lay-up with help from a Penny double-screen to win the game at the buzzer and causing bedlam, Hedo Turkoglu's game-winners, Rashard Lewis' game-winners, beating the Raptors in 2008 to win our first playoff series in 12 years. Dwight, Jameer, Penny, Shaq, McGrady, looking at vintage film from those baby years. Memories that stay with diehard fans forever along with their professional and personal memory collections and accomplishments. Farewell Amway Arena, you were a source of enormous entertainment for millions of people around the globe. Best of luck to the new Creative Village that will replace the O-Rena and hopefully will make even a tiny percentage of a positive impact as its predecessor did. It may be rubble now, but the O-Rena lives in the spirit of this Orlando community.