Gordon and Isaac Have Fun During Disney's NBA Experience Grand Opening

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Peering around the dazzling, new NBA Experience at Disney Springs with wide-eyed wonderment, Orlando Magic forwards Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac looked more like giddy fans than actual NBA players on Monday.

Gordon and Isaac are stalwarts on the Magic, having played in hundreds of big NBA games and competed on some of the biggest stages in all of basketball. But they didn’t even bother hiding their joy on Monday while marveling at the grandeur of the just-opened facility and taking part in some of the interactive aspects of the NBA Experience.

``This is so great on a lot of levels – with how big and creative Disney is and how creative the NBA is – and this brings both of them together,’’ said Gordon, who joined NBA legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade, current players Victor Oladipo, Mike Conley, Brook Lopez and Udonis Haslem and former WNBA great Swin Cash for Monday’s grand opening at Disney Springs. ``Like (NBA Commissioner) Adam (Silver) was saying, `Not a lot of people get the full NBA experience and what it feels like to run through a tunnel, be on a JumboTron or hear the crowd noise. Disney and the NBA have done a good job of showing what it feels like to be in an NBA locker room or run through the tunnel when your name is called out.’’

Isaac, 21, spent all of last week in Las Vegas playing for USA Basketball’s Select Team, but he wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity to attend Monday’s opening of the NBA Experience. Isaac couldn’t help but chuckle at the life-like wax figure likeness of Silver created in the NBA Experience – and he’s someone who has actually walked the stage at the NBA Draft and shook Silver’s hand as a first-round pick of the Magic.

``This is amazing, and I never expected it to be this big or have this many interactive stations for the fans,’’ said Isaac, who said he’s already planning a return visit so that his younger brother can savor the many aspects of the NBA Experience. ``Everything looks so cool, so modern and the lights are just like an NBA arena. I’m sure the fans can’t wait to get out here and shoot on the hoops. I mean, they have a wax Adam Silver that looks so real and it’s crazy to me. I can’t wait to check it out just like the fans.’’

In collaboration with the NBA, Walt Disney’s ``Imagineers’’ worked to capture a true interactive and immersive NBA experience for diehard fans. The facility, which opened on Monday to a celebration equipped with confetti cannons, a dance team and the attendance of several NBA dignitaries, is packed with 13 basketball-related activities throughout the 44,000 square feet over two levels. Fans can dunk on lowered rims, mimic dribbling like the pros in booths, shoot on courts with images of fans and noise and take part in NBA trivia challenges.

``NBA Experience lets everybody who loves the game, live it,’’ said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. ``We’re excited to open the doors to a fun and unique experience for fans of all ages.’’

Added Silver, who was in Orlando throughout the weekend to also attend the Junior NBA Global Championships: ``Disney creates memorable experiences better than anyone, and we are thrilled to share the excitement of NBA basketball with fans and Walt Disney World guests from around the world.’’

Magic CEO Alex Martins was also on hand for Monday’s grand opening and he feels the NBA and Disney created an experience that fans will quickly fall in love with because of the realistic nature of the interactive stations at the NBA Experience. Ultimately, showing more behind-the-scenes facets of the NBA game to millions of Disney visitors will only help to enhance the appeal of the NBA and the Magic, Martins said.

``This is absolutely spectacular,’’ Martins raved. ``When you consider that we have hundreds of millions of fans around the world, only a small percentage of them come to our games. But there are 75 million visitors to Orlando every year and the majority of them come to Disney and Disney Springs and they’ll be able to connect to the NBA game through several immersive experiences.

``They did a spectacular job with the experience and this is as authentic and as real of an NBA experience as you can get next to being there at a game,’’ Martins added. ``You can simulate walking through the tunnel with the players or dunking on an NBA basketball hoop. This is going to be great for the NBA in terms of broadening our reach to casual fans, and it’s super for (the Magic) that it’s right here in our backyard and our hometown.’’

Hill, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member and a former Magic player from 2000-07, said the NBA Experience will serve as a great vehicle for the league to reach and excite basketball fans at a young age.

``The NBA is such a global game, but there’s still so much room for growth,’’ said Hill, who still lives in Orlando even as he is a minority stakes owner of the Atlanta Hawks. ``So many people come to Orlando and Disney specifically, and it will allow the NBA to touch those customers, gain new followers and give them this type of experience, I think it will only endear them to our great players and what the league is all about.’’

Added Oladipo, another former Magic player who still owns a house in the Orlando area despite playing now for the Indiana Pacers: ``I know what it’s like to come to Disney and share this experience. I tell people all the time – there’s a peace with Disney because it reminds you when you were a little kid and life was a lot simpler back then and you just woke up and everybody made sure your life was easy. … Disney gave you peace and hope (as a child). So, to be able to come back here and share this experience, it’s amazing.

``I say it all the time, `Fans make our game and all they want to do is interact with us in any way possible,’’’ Oladipo added. ``So, for them to be able to share this NBA experience and do what we do, this is something they’ll always remember and it’s something for everyone of all ages. It will show fans that, `Man, maybe one day I can be just like them.’ That’s what it’s all about.’’

In addition to enjoying some of the interactive events at the NBA Experience, Gordon took time out of his training schedule on Sunday to speak with some of the athletes in Orlando competing in the Junior NBA Global Championships. Gordon talked to the players about his experiences as a young rising star who dreamed of making it to the NBA. Like with the fan-friendly features at the NBA Experience at Disney Springs, Gordon tried to be an authentic and real with his advice to the young hopefuls.

``My biggest message to kids these days is to not be afraid to fail,’’ said Gordon, the co-winner of the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment award for his off-court work in the Central Florida area. ``Life has so many opportunities day in and day out and we’re not always going to make the correct decisions every single time. You’ve got to be able to get over that quickly, learn from your mistakes and be better players and people from it.’’

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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