By David Hauser
I have a pretty poor memory, but this I still recall. In 6th grade (1995ish), at a nearby table in my middle school cafeteria I noticed a young relatively non-descript female classmate wearing a homemade Orlando Magic white t-shirt to school on some random weekday during the NBA season. Scrawled in bright colorful puffy paint across the front (and back) of her shirt was the following trivia question about NBA journeyman/Magic backup point guard, Brian Shaw: What is the most valuable import Orlando has EVER received from Miami? A. Tropical Storms? B. Cuban Food? C. Their overflow retirees? D. Brian Shaw?
I think I remember this over a lot of other random things from my past, in part because I would have been completely and utterly mortified to ever wear a homemade t-shirt to middle school (much less one with puffy paint text on it). At the time I was more reticent to see this as some kind of not-so-cool-junior-high-fashion-choice than some socially courageous display of local team pride. But with hindsight, I look back at this nameless girl in her puffy painted white v-neck with some degree of fondness. Her shirt, and my passive glance and long-term memory stamp of it, represents the authentic and real power of sports; the impact a seemingly silly logo or jersey can have in bonding two strangers in even just the slightest way.
There once was a time that former Orlando WESH-2 Sports Anchor, Stuart Scott, coined “Shaw-Shaq Redemption” to describe the pair’s ferocious alley-oop dunk combo. Orlando may not be Philly, Beantown, or the Chi-city in terms of being some super high sports-IQ town with a diehard blue-collar sports mentality. But Orlando, with authentic passion and enthusiasm, supports the Magic. We are a one-sport town. And the Magic are as close to anything that Orlandoians are have in a shared link of municipal and communal identity. Note- I had to check Orlando, FL’s Wikipedia page to identify what exactly people from Orlando refer to themselves as (this despite living the first 18 years of my life in Central Florida) and I came up with zilch. “Orlandoians” is good, but I think “Magic Fans” is stronger.
Dwight Howard continues to yo-yo Orlando fans into believing he might not run out of town just like his not-so-long-ago big man predecessor Shaq did. And David Stern bullied Orlando (and its hapless Mayor, Buddy Dyer) into building the NBA’s most extravagant and expensive arena at the very peak of the economic bubble, while most recently shrugging off the economic impact of Dwight Howard’s potential exit through the gift shop door out of Orlando.
I’m wary to say “Magic deserve better than this,” as deserve is a rather loaded word. However, Magic fans have earned more respect as a fan base than this. For God’s sakes, we make puffy painted shirts!! And actually wear them in public!!! If only these two-faced magicians, Dwight Howard and David Stern, knew what it meant to care about something that much.
(For those of you playing at home, if you answered “D” you are correct)