D.J. Augustin Participates in Virtual Q&A With Southwest Airlines Staff and Members

by John Denton

ORLANDO - A child of the late 1980s and ‘90s who used to dribble a basketball around the house while wearing a comically oversized Michael Jordan jersey, Orlando Magic point guard D.J. Augustin recently derived quite a bit of motivation from watching an episode of ``The Last Dance’’ on ESPN.

``The last episode that I watched, afterward I went straight into the garage and started working out,’’ said Augustin, referring to Episode 8 where a tearful Jordan refused to make apologies for his competitiveness and his unflappable will to win. ``I just think it as motivation – not just to athletes or basketball players, but for anyone who wants to get better at anything that they are doing and want to be a better person physically and mentally. It’s just been great motivation for everybody who has been watching M.J.’’

Augustin, who later got to know Jordan when he played point guard for the Bobcats/Hornets and the six-time champion purchased the franchise in 2010, shared his thoughts on ``The Last Dance’’ and a variety of other topics on Monday in an exclusive video question-and-answer session with Southwest Airlines members and employees. The Magic have been working closely with corporate partners, such as Southwest Airlines, to help provide support and encouragement during a deadly pandemic that dramatically disrupted businesses and people’s regular, everyday lives.

Magic forward Jonathan Isaac and head coach Steve Clifford have conducted video webinar Q-and-As with Magic season ticket holders in recent weeks. On Friday, Budweiser and Drizly.com will feature former Magic star forward Rashard Lewis in an hour-long video chat with fans as part of the ``Budweiser Legendary Moments’’ campaign.

Augustin has been searching for motivational tools to keep himself in top physical shape lately while the NBA season has been suspended for more than nine weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe. A married father of three, the 32-year-old Augustin has kept himself busy by playing mini-basketball with his kids, bicycling around the neighborhood and working out four times a week in his garage-turned-gymnasium.

An early-riser who likes to get his work in well before midday, Augustin got in a different kind of sweat session on Monday as he returned to the Amway Center for the first time since early March when NBA facilities were shuttered in an effort to keep players safe from the virus that has ravaged the country. The NBA recently allowed players back into their teams’ facilities – while abiding by a lengthy list of restrictions – and Augustin was back at the Amway Center early Monday morning for shooting, cardio and weight-lifting sessions.

``It was strange because there are a lot of precautions that you have to go through just to get out on the court as far as taking our temperature, washing our hands and putting on a mask,’’ Augustin said of NBA-mandated protocols put in place to safeguard players. ``But once I was back on the court, touched the ball some and got to shoot again, it felt great to be back out there. You forget how much you love the game and how much you just love to do the little things. It was actually very exciting for me to be back out there.’’

No one has ever doubted the love of the game driving Augustin, who has carved out a 12-year NBA career despite being just 5-foot-11 and only 183 pounds. Augustin, a native of Louisiana who was forced to relocate to Houston following Hurricane Katrina, has played for eight NBA franchises and it is his hope that he still has several years left on his career because of his dedication to his craft.

Augustin had one of the most efficient seasons of his career last year for the Magic, averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists in 81 games while shooting 47 percent overall from the field and 42.1 percent from 3-point range. His finest moment came in the playoffs when he coolly drilled a 3-pointer over 7-footer Marc Gasol to help Orlando defeat Toronto in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs. Toronto would go on to defeat the Magic, 4-1, and ultimately roll to the NBA championship – a factor that only made Augustin’s Game 1 dagger even sweeter for himself and the Magic.

``It was definite a great moment and is something I’ll always remember,’’ Augustin remembered. ``That night it was amazing because I was just one Cloud 9. But after that next game when we lost, I just let it go out the door and forgot about it being the competitor that I am. But people are always tagging me in the shot (on social media) and asking me about the shot, so I won’t ever forget about it.’’

This season, Augustin willfully moved into a reserve role to make room for the emergence of 21-year-old star point guard Markelle Fultz. Despite a midseason knee injury that cost him six weeks of action, Augustin has averaged 10.4 points and 4.6 assists over 49 games while helping to greatly strengthen Orlando’s second unit.

At the time of the NBA’s shut down because of the coronavirus, Orlando (30-35) was one of the league’s hottest teams. The Magic won three games in a row, six of nine and eight of 12 after the break for the NBA All-Star Game, allowing them to pull within a half-game of Brooklyn for the seventh seed in the East standings. While the disruption certainly came at a bad time for the Magic, Augustin feels the delay could allow them to get injured players such as Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu back when-and-if the playoffs resume in the coming months.

``I don’t care who we play; I just want to get back playing, being in the playoffs again and it will be exciting regardless,’’ Augustin said when asked by a Southwest Airlines member about his preference of a playoff opponent in the playoffs. ``It sucks that we won’t be able to have fans (in attendance), if we are able to come back, but I think it will be a good change for people at home to have sports on TV again.

``Before the coronavirus, we were playing great and we were still missing a lot of key guys from injuries like (Aminu) and (Isaac),’’ Augustin added. ``Even with that team that we had before the coronavirus hit, we could have done some damage in the playoffs. And if we would have had our full team in the playoffs, you just never know what might have happened. It’s just exciting to know that we could potentially have that full team in the playoffs. It will continue to be about getting better every day, and when you get in the playoffs you just never know what could happen with us.’’

Augustin has always been one to dream big even when he was told that he’d likely never amount to much in basketball. He won two state titles at New Orleans’ Brother Martin High School – where his jersey was retired in December – and he later became an Honorable Mention All-American while playing at the University of Texas alongside of superstar Kevin Durant. That got his drafted ninth overall by Charlotte in 2008, and Augustin is still competing in the NBA while many of the players also selected in his draft class have seen their careers end prematurely.

Like Jordan, Augustin has pushed himself to quiet his detractors and get the most possible out of his basketball talent.

``(Being a leader) is something that’s always been in me because with the way I grew up, I was never given anything,’’ Augustin told Southwest Airlines listeners on Monday’s mid-day call. ``I was always told, `I was too small, I wouldn’t make it and I wouldn’t do this or that.’ But that put a chip on my shoulder from when I was little to always prove people wrong and that I belong (in the NBA).

``For me, I’ve always known that the NBA business is all about opportunity and you never know when you could be out of the league, it could be your last game and you just never know,’’ Augustin added. ``I think a lot of guys take that for granted and I have never done that. Any opportunity I’ve had to play in a game, I’m going to do it unless I’m injured. I remember (Michael Jordan) always saying to us (in Charlotte), `There’s a difference between being hurt and injured. Everybody is hurt over 82 games, but if you aren’t injured to the point where you can’t help the team, then you should play. That was a great lesson that Jordan taught us all.’’

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.

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