Denton: Nelson Gives Souvenirs to Hometown Fans

By John Denton
Feb. 26, 2014

PHILADELPHIA – Jameer Nelson had just delighted his mother sitting courtside, his college coach stationed a few rows back and 70 family members and friends with a clutch fourth-quarter performance to lift his Orlando Magic to victory.

But walking off the Wells Fargo Center court on Wednesday night, Nelson looked like a beaten man.

Not beaten in the spiritual sense as Nelson was flashing a toothy smile and he was ready to high-five anyone with a hand close enough to reach. Well, anyone other than the smart-alecky fan who yelled, ``Go Temple!’’ knowing full well that Nelson was a former standout at the rival St. Joseph’s across town in Philadelphia.

Nelson looked beaten because he was shoeless and shirtless and without the blue and white wristbands that serve two purposes – they are scrawled with the words ``R.I.P. Pete Nelson’’ as a tribute to his late father. Also, the colorful bands hold Nelson’s mouthpiece when he is talking, which is usually anytime between the jump ball and the final horn for the chatty, playful point guard.

Nelson hung around a few extra minutes on Wednesday after Orlando’s 101-90 defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers – one that he keyed with 16 points, 12 assists and 12 fourth-quarter points – to make sure the night was a little extra special for a few fans. One fan got Nelson’s No. 14 jersey, while two others were treated to the black Nike shoes that he was wearing. He flung a towel into the crowd and a few lucky folks got the rubbery bands Nelson had on his wrists.

``I left the court with my shorts on and that’s it,’’ Nelson said with a chuckle. ``I try to give as much away as possible. Even if it costs me a little bit more money to do that and buy extra wrist bands, shoes, jerseys or whatever, I’ll do it.’’

Fans hang over the railings at every NBA arena, asking for jerseys, shoes, headbands and towels. But players don’t give those things away simply out of the kindness of their heart. It also costs them to bring smiles to the faces of their fans. With the Magic, every player is given one jersey in every color as part of the job. If they want extra jerseys as keepsakes or to give away to fans, they have to purchase them.

Magic Equipment Manager/Travelling Secretary Rodney ``Sid’’ Powell, one of just three people to work for the organization for all 25 years, said that Nelson usually buys six extra jerseys in white, blue and black at approximately $250 apiece. That allows him to donate the jerseys to charity or give them out on a whim to fans attending games.

Doing just that on Wednesday in Philadelphia was extra special to Nelson because he used to be one of the fans on the other side of the railing begging and pleading for a jersey from a NBA player. A native of nearby Chester, Pa., Nelson would attend a couple of 76ers games a season and hope for some sort of interaction with the stars down on the court. Sometimes, Nelson would even wait outside of the arena for autographs, and occasionally he was lucky enough to meet some of his heroes.

``I know how cool it is and I know how I was when I waited after a game to see Gary Payton or Allen Iverson,’’ Nelson remembered. ``The feeling was unbelievable when you actually got something. What I did with it, I don’t know. But at that moment, you appreciated it more than anyone could ever imagine. … I got some small things like autographs and wristbands and things like that. I don’t know where they are now, but at that moment it was probably the coolest thing that ever happened to me.’’

Nelson is only the second player in franchise history to wear a Magic uniform for 10 seasons – something that he takes great pride in. He could have left Orlando in free agency two years ago, but decided to stick with the franchise that believed in him as a first-round pick in 2004. And no one would blame the 32-year-old Nelson if he had demanded a trade from the rebuilding Magic so that he could make one more run in the playoffs. But Nelson has stayed true to the Magic, stressing that he hopes he can someday retire as a member of the franchise.

At 32 and 10 years into the NBA, Nelson clearly gets it when it comes to the fans. And he has a fan in Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, who loves Nelson’s approach to the game and the way he’s worked as a mentor for the team’s younger players. And on Wednesday, Nelson gave his teammates a lesson in how to take over a game late.

``Vintage, to say it in one word,’’ Vaughn said of Nelson. ``We put the ball in his hands and he made shots for us and made plays for us. I don’t think he had a turnover and his ability to get into the paint was good for our group tonight.’’

Nelson is still in awe of the fact that kids – and even adults – ask him for his jersey, shoes and wristbands after games. Nelson is Orlando’s all-time leader in assists and he recently passed Shaquille O’Neal for fourth on the Magic’s all-time scoring list, but in many ways he still sees himself as the regular guy who loves basketball just as much as the fan leaning over the railing.

``Whenever you toss your jersey into the crowd – no matter where you are – that’s part of giving back and you being who you are as a professional athlete,’’ said Nelson, who could very well become the first Magic player to have his jersey retired and hang from the rafters of the Amway Center someday. ``Whether you like it or not, people look up to you. Young kids and your peers look up to you because of who you are. Obviously, if you weren’t a good person, they wouldn’t want your jersey.

``So I look at it as a kind of cool thing because you don’t grow up thinking that anyone would even want your jersey,’’ he continued. ``I purchase more jerseys for myself so I can throw them out to fans. It’s just something that I like doing.’’