THE EARLY YEARS
By John Denton
The genesis for the Magic started in September of 1985 when Orlando businessman Jim Hewitt approached Williams at a speaking engagement about helping to bring a NBA franchise to Orlando. A year later, Williams was fully on board, believing so much in the future of Orlando that he was willing to leave his GM position with the Philadelphia 76ers.
``I remember taking the phone call in my kitchen. Jimmy, in his unmistakable Southern drawl, said, `Bubba, we’ve gone about as far as we can go down here,’’ Williams said of his conversation with Hewitt, who had organized the ownership team and the funding for Orlando Arena. ``If you will come down here and spearhead it, we’ll go forward. If you don’t, we’ll pull the plug.’’
By the summer of 1986, Williams had Orlando in the running for an expansion franchise and a month later it was announced that the franchise would be nicknamed, ``Magic.’’
The rest quickly fell in line because of Orlando’s hunger to win a professional basketball franchise. A whopping 14.176 fans reserved season tickets, giving Orlando the most of any of the seven cities vying for a franchise. And on April 22, 1987, Orlando’s impressive bid persuaded the NBA to grant it a franchise that would begin play in the 1989-90 season.
The first team was built through the expansion draft with Sidney Green, Reggie Theus, Terry Catledge, Sam Vincent, Otis Smith, Scott Skiles, Jerry Reynolds, Mark Acres and Morlon Wiley becoming the first inaugural players. And a month later, one of the most popular players in Magic history, Nick Anderson was selected 11th overall as the first Orlando draft pick.
Expectations were low for that first Magic team, but it didn’t matter to a rabid fanbase that filled the Orlando Arena every night. That passion for the Magic became quite evident in the first preseason game in Orlando – a 118-109 defeat of the defending champion Detroit Pistons on Oct. 13, 1989.
``To the Pistons, it was just another preseason game, but to our fans it was like Game 7 of the NBA Finals,’’ Anderson remembered with a laugh. ``The electricity in that building was amazing and our fans really wanted us to win that game.’’