Denton: DeVos Happy With Team

Denton: DeVos Happy With Team

By John Denton
April 28, 2010


Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

ORLANDO – From either his spot along the baseline near the Orlando Magic’s bench or in his family suite high above the crowd, Rich DeVos likes what he sees when he peers out across the arena that bear his company’s name.

He certainly enjoys the product out on Amway Arena’s parquet floor what with his Magic having breezed through the first round of the playoffs and once again being legitimate contenders to win the NBA championship.

But when the 84-year-old DeVos attends games – and he likes to come more than the once-a-week edict his wife, Helen, gave him recently – he sees beyond the action on the court.

He sees kids’ basketball teams being honored at midcourt during timeouts, church choir groups singing the national anthem and teenagers scurrying in the stands for t-shirts shot out from those cannons. But mostly, DeVos – a family man’s man – sees dads and daughters interacting, husbands and wives smooching on the kiss cam and grandfathers talking basketball with their grandsons.

It’s moments like these that DeVos is delighted to be the owner and steward to Orlando’s deepest-rooted, longest-lasting professional franchise. The man’s rise to power is the stuff of legend and his wealth is enormous, but knowing that his pro basketball franchise has brought so much joy to those in Central Florida means the world to DeVos.

``Look at this crowd, they’re all having fun,’’ DeVos said during a recent game as he peered across the stands. ``It’s husbands and wives and kids and there are no drunks in here. It’s fun for families and that means a lot to me.

``I’ve always wanted to use this team for the kids in this area,’’ DeVos continued. ``I sit up here and I see all the kids being honored before the game and if I wasn’t here or this team wasn’t here, that might not be happening. We’ve always tried to make this a place available to kids and families and to make this community a better place to live.’’

There’s also another family that DeVos watches closely when he’s at Magic games. His favorite time of the year, still, are the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays because his family always gathers in Orlando and congregates at Magic games. With his four adult children sprinkled in the stands all around him, 16 grandkids on his lap or sitting in the seats nearby, DeVos is in absolute bliss.

``When you come to a game and all of your grandchildren are there at the game with you, what more do you want in life?’’ DeVos said with conviction. ``The family is so important to us. I think it’s significant to have one family continue to own a team. It holds the family together and it holds the team together.’’

DeVos has been widely considered for years as one of the NBA’s best owners, whether it was running a first-class organization or fielding a highly competitive team on the floor. The Magic are paying the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax for the first team this season, sending the deficits even further into the red. But DeVos and Vander Weide approved an offseason spending spree because the ownership group is serious about trying to bring the first NBA title to Orlando.

And when it came time to assist in the construction of the new Amway Center for Orlando, DeVos was at the forefront. The Magic contributed $50 million toward the construction, $10 million to the creation of a Performing Arts Center and $25 million to build five community recreation centers. Other contributions toward fundraising, financing and operations pushed the Magic’s total commitment toward the Amway Center to $150 million.

NBA Commissioner David Stern recently said one of his fondest memories from last spring’s playoffs was being able to hand over the Eastern Conference championship trophy to DeVos. Stern has said strong owners like DeVos have helped the NBA thrive in smaller markets such as Orlando.

``He’s just the best,’’ Stern said. ``We got off to a little bumpy start in Orlando as an expansion franchise, but Rich DeVos and his entire family stepped up to provide both the team and the community with whatever they reasonably asked for. He’s been supportive of management and supportive of additional investment in the building and supportive in every possible way. And he’s helped the institutions and universities in the community and the many causes and the team has been an asset there, too. He’s done everything you would want from an owner.’’

When the Magic made it to the NBA Finals last spring, team cornerstones such as Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson talked openly of wanting to ``win one for Mr. D.’’ DeVos was flattered by the gesture even though the Magic fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. Now, as he pines for his Magic win a championship, he hopes it can do so many others than just himself.

``How do you describe the impact of winning? You don’t see teams winning every year, and we’re on a track to win now to win the East again and maybe a chance to go all the way,’’ he said. ``We’ve got to win it for these guys. They all say that they want to win it for me. It’s a nice deal, and if that helps us win it all, good. If they need something to rally around they can do it for us because we’ve been around for 19 years.

``But I just want them to know when we win this that it will be for everybody,’’ DeVos continued. ``The team wins, the community wins and the kids around here win. How important is it to a community to say they have a championship basketball team? How good does that make the kids from there feel? It changes a community and changes the feelings of a community. Those are subtle things that happen in the lives of people and make a difference in how they feel about themselves.’’

Still exquisitely sharp mentally, DeVos remembers names of arena ushers, players and even sports writers. And in his 19 years as principal owner of the Magic there have been so many memories. He and son-in-law Bob Vander Weide still fondly remember that first night of sitting in the stands as owners of the team. The 1995 Game 7 defeat of Indiana, one that secured Orlando’s berth to the NBA Finals, is a top highlight. And he’s hoping that last season’s run back to The NBA Finals was just a prelude for what is to come in these playoffs.

DeVos considers himself now to be ``the team’s biggest cheerleader.’’ Always positive and cheery, it’s a role that he cherishes most and he just hopes that the Magic bring everyone in Orlando as they do to him. ``This team still means a lot to me,’’ he said. ``I look forward to every game that I can come to. My wife says that one game a week is enough, but I cheat every once in a while. But I’m 84 and it takes a little more effort to get here now, but it’s still a lot of fun.

``We just have such a wonderful bunch of guys on the team,’’ DeVos continued. ``That’s a matter of (GM) Otis (Smith) being so terrific. He’s selected the best guys. Otis runs the team and does a great job. He and Bob do that and I just cheer along and enjoy the ride.’’

John Denton writes for Orlandomagic.com. His Magic ``Behind the Scenes’’ segment can be heard each week on ESPN 1080 AM. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com.