A LASTING LEGACY
By John Denton
The recipient of the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, Williams was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. But he knows that his legacy in sports will be bringing the Magic to Orlando.
There are times when Williams looks out across the glitzy Amway Center and the sold-out crowds and thinks back to a time when some wondered if NBA basketball would ever fly in Orlando.
Williams never waved in his faith that Orlando could be a big-league sports city. But even he admits that he is sometimes blown away at how far Orlando and the Magic have come while growing together over the past 25 years.
``This team has always been a rallying point for the community, really,’’ Williams said. ``To this community, we’re Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NHL all rolled into one. I think as the Magic goes, the energy of this community sort of goes along with it. This town has seen it all unfold with us from the very first day, all the way back to when it was just a long-range dream, and now this franchise has 25 years under its belt to really mature and develop. Our fans know the game, they know the league and know the players, and our fan base has come a long way.’’
In an age when executives and coaches are often fired on a whim, Williams is a sports rarity in that he’s spent 25-plus years with one professional organization. But he said he’s never had the desire to leave Orlando after making the city his home more than two decades ago.
A big reason for that, Williams said, are the Central Florida people who love their basketball and so greatly appreciate what he did for Orlando by believing in it. Twenty five years later fans are still thanking Williams almost on a daily basis for bringing the Magic to Orlando. Williams said the truly gratifying part for him is seeing people believe in Orlando and having the city fulfill its destiny as a great sports market.
``Several times a week, there will be a phone call or I’ll run into somebody somewhere and they will make mention of those early days. Or they will say, `Thanks,’’’ Williams said while beaming with pride. ``I appreciate it all so much. It probably means a lot more to the community – and me as well – as the years go on and you can look back over the growth of this franchise. It’s just such a treat to see the pleasure that this franchise has brought to our community and it continues to do so.’’