Denton: Magic Continue to Make Difference This Holiday Season

By John Denton
Nov. 28, 2013

ORLANDO – For 25 years, the Orlando Magic have been Central Florida’s only big-time professional sports franchise. But the Magic have always been so much more than just a pro organization that puts a basketball product on the floor and judges success by wins and losses.

The Magic are big-time difference-makers in their community. And in this season of giving, the Magic are all about giving back to those who need it the most. Why, in the past four years alone the Magic have donated more than $2 million to various homeless causes throughout Central Florida.

If you don’t believe that the Magic make a major impact in the community just take a visit to the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida on Thanksgiving morning. The scene there at the Coalition is equal parts gut-wrenching and heart-warming. On the one hand, you have desperate folks out of work and without shelter lined up out the door, down the street and around the corner in need of a good meal. On the other hand, there are hundreds of volunteers on hand willing to donate their time and money to make sure those in need can smile for at least one day.

For a 21st consecutive year, the Magic are the leaders in helping bring some comfort to those in need on Thanksgiving Day. The Magic will celebrate the day of thanks and giving by putting a hot meal into the bellies of more than 700 underserved people who need it the most. And because the face of homelessness has sadly morphed from the 40-year-old down-on-his-luck male to one of families with several small children, the Magic will also host a kids carnival to bring joy to those who haven’t had much to smile about during these rough economic times.

Look closely at those working at the Coalition for the Homeless on Thursday morning and you’ll see CEO Alex Martins, who proudly calls the Magic’s Thanksgiving tradition ``the best day of the year.’’ You’ll also see head coach Jacque Vaughn, who paid for the 700 meals last year and is actively involved again this year.

And you’ll see 10-year veteran Jameer Nelson, power forward Jason Maxiell and promising rookie guard Victor Oladipo doing their part by serving meals, posing for pictures and signing autographs. And later in the day, Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis will be on hand to entertain kids at the carnival with his kind-hearted and gregarious nature.

And just last week forward Tobias Harris was at the Rosemont Center in Orlando to partner with the Magic and Amway to provide 450 Thanksgiving meals to those from the Parramore area. Said Harris: ``I’ve been extremely blessed. It’s always been a priority for me to give back to families who are in need.’’

By the time Thursday morning rolls around, that group of Magic players will have played four games in five nights. They could certainly use the time off, what with it being Thanksgiving and all, a game still to come on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs and a six-game, 12-day road trip looming next week. But the Orlando’s coaches and players know that making a difference in the community isn’t just lip service when it comes to the Magic organization. Giving back to the fans who cheer them on nightly at the Amway Center is a tradition that guys like Nelson – only the second player in franchise history to don a Magic uniform for 10 seasons – is proud to uphold.

An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career before the 2012-13 season, Nelson could have gone elsewhere to play in the NBA. But he stuck with the Magic, in part, because as he put it, the Orlando fans and the Magic organization stuck by him early on in his career when others doubted if he would ever make it as a NBA point guard. Nelson said he’s never once thought about playing elsewhere and he considers it an honor that he’s been able to play his entire NBA career in a Magic uniform.

With November being National Hunger and Homelessness month, the Magic are working to bring awareness to those increasing problems in the Central Florida community. The Magic have teamed with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness in an attempt to bring hope and security to those in need.

In addition to the two events serving Thanksgiving meals to more than 1,000 underserved people in Central Florida, the Magic have also sponsored a host of other events to address homelessness and hunger issues. To wit:

  • The Magic sponsored its fifth Habitat for Humanity Home in October. Front-office staff assisted through volunteer hours and picked up hammers, nails and paint brushes to put the finishing touches on a new home for a deserving family.

  • Grace Landing, an organization that provides housing to foster care children that age out of the system is another organization the Magic supports.

  • The Magic also partnered with Oranole, an organization focused on feeding homeless children in Orange and Seminole Counties. According to Oranle there are more homeless children in Central Florida than anywhere else in the country.

    Said Martins, who has proudly trumpeted the mission of legendary Magic owner Rich DeVos that the Magic franchise always make a difference in the community: ``We hope to shine a light on our neighbors that need us the most. When it comes to our community, every day must be game day.’’

    Clearly, the Magic are doing all they can to make the community a better place to live for all Central Florida residents. Someone else who recently wanted it known that the Magic have been great partners for the Orlando area is District 2 City Commissioner Tony Ortiz.

    When a select few opposed the Magic’s bid to buy city-owned land next to the Amway Center for $12.7 million so that they could build a 650,000-square-foot retail complex, Ortiz lauded the Magic for all of good things that they have done to give back to those in the community. Because of their willingness to reinvest in downtown Orlando and the Parramore community and the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation’s history of giving more than $18 million to non-profit organizations over the past 25 years, the Magic have earned the trust of those throughout the area, Ortiz argued. And he said people in Central Florida should take notice of how the Magic are serious about their commitment to the needs of those in Orlando and Central Florida.

    ``I’m tired of (critics) pointing the finger at the Magic,’’ an impassioned Ortiz said recently. ``The Magic organization has helped this city in many, many, many ways. One of the most important ways that they have helped is with our kids. … When I see the kids being taken care of – especially the kids who cannot afford to pay for programs – and the Magic come up to the plate and they say, `Here, we are to help you guys.’ Stop pointing the fingers if you don’t know what’s going on in the City of Orlando. Enough of that.’’

    Thursday is a recognized day of giving, but really it’s no different than any other day for a Magic organization that is dedicated to giving back to those in need. The Magic are a big-time pro sports franchise that cares as much about their community as they do their team on the floor. They have set the standard for how a sports team and a city can work together to elevate the quality of life in the area.

    The Magic truly care about their community, and that’s something that everyone in Central Florida can be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day.





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