ORLANDO - Just because the Orlando Magic have stopped playing games – for the time being, at least – that doesn’t mean that the organization and its players have stopped doing what they can for those in need in the Central Florida community during this time of crisis.
Not long after the DeVos family – owners of the Magic for nearly 29 years – announced plans earlier this week to back a $2 million fund for hourly employees out of work while NBA, G League and ECHL seasons are suspended, Magic players Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba and several other teammates also pledged financial support for those adversely impacted.
Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic, was among the first players on the roster to commit to assisting the approximately 1,800 employees who mostly work behind the scenes at Magic, Lakeland Magic and Orlando Solar Bears games and at the Amway Center. Vucevic, an all-star in 2019 for the first time in his career, wanted to do whatever he could to assist those who count on the Magic playing games to supplement their incomes.
``Obviously the stoppage of the NBA affects many people that would be working. People who work in the arena, all of them, I think, are part-time (employees), and they depend on us playing,’’ Vucevic said. ``In the position that we’re in as players, we can help others. They do so much for us while we’re playing to make sure that everything goes smoothly – a lot of stuff that people don’t necessarily see because they are focused on the games – and this is just one way for us players to give back and thank them for what they do.
``There are a lot of players around the NBA who have (pledged money for workers’ salaries), and I think it’s really great that they’ve decided to give back and I’m proud of the message they sent,’’ Vucevic added. ``With a few of us players and the DeVos family, we’re just trying to come together and help out the employees as much as we can.’’
Magic players Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz, D.J. Augustin, Jonathan Isaac, Michael Carter-Williams, Al-Farouq Aminu and Bamba, along with Vucevic, have also made plans to assist those in need.
``There’s 250+ @OrlandoMagic teammates of mine behind the scenes at @AmwayCenter n they always got my back win or lose so u can bet I got theirs – games or no games,’’ Bamba posted on Twitter recently.
Vucevic, the leading scorer (19.5 points per game) and rebounder (11 boards per game) for the Magic (30-35) again this season, said he is proud of how many of his teammates have taken action to try and give back to those in need. Vucevic said the idea of helping others is a message that starts with the DeVos family and courses throughout the entire Magic organization.
``I’m very proud of my teammates,’’ he said. ``What we do on the court is very important, but it is even more important what we can do to help out our communities in as many different ways as possible. Right now, when things aren’t going well, it’s crazy out there, people are struggling with their jobs and might be having trouble getting food because they depend on their schools (for free or reduced lunches), it’s just a great opportunity for us to help. I’m proud that a lot of my teammates are stepping up and it just shows a great message of togetherness and I think that’s what we really need now.’’
In hopes of helping curb the spread of COVID-19 and the coronavirus, the NBA suspended its season last Wednesday. At least eight NBA players have tested positive for the virus, namely Brooklyn Nets’ forward Kevin Durant and Utah Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Several other sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, NHL and the NCAA, followed the NBA’s lead last week and quickly suspended their seasons.
On Thursday, the NBA took another step toward trying to protect players and curb the spread of the virus. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA team headquarters, practice facilities, weight rooms and medical treatment centers will be closed down to players and staff. Also, players have been informed that they are allowed to travel outside of their home NBA markets, but they are forbidden from leaving the continental U.S. for safety reasons.
Vucevic, who noted that he’s been passing his unexpected free time by tending to his one-year-old son, Philip, said safety takes great precedence over sports during this chaotic time in the world. Vucevic said his family back in his native Montenegro are safe.
``Right now, sports and basketball aren’t the most important things. Right now, it’s about people staying safe, staying healthy and doing as much as they can to protect themselves by listening to the experts,’’ he said. ``That’s what’s most important, and basketball will come back eventually. But right now, it’s about people just staying safe and helping others as much as they can. Hopefully, this virus doesn’t last long, and we can all get back to our normal lives again.’’
For the 29-year-old Vucevic, his normal life revolves around the City of Orlando, his home since 2012 when the Magic acquired him in a four-team, 12-player trade. The 7-foot center endured numerous years of rebuilding before leading the Magic to 42 wins and the playoffs in 2019.
Last summer, Vucevic recommitted to Orlando and the Magic by signing another long-term contract with the franchise. While his family roots are in Montenegro and he grew up living in various spots in Europe, Vucevic said that Central Florida has an incredibly special place in his heart.
``I’ve been here now for eight years. My wife and I bought a house here, our son was born here, I’ve met a lot of great people here and I’ve established a great life here. So, we definitely consider this to be home now,’’ Vucevic said with conviction. ``That’s why I think it’s important for me to get out into the community and do things to help. It’s a great community to be a part of.’’
Vucevic said the Magic’s commitment to making Central Florida a better place to live by helping those in need has always given him a great deal of pride to wear the franchise’s blue, black and silver pinstripes. In February, the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation donated $1,050,000 in grants to 16 local non-profit organizations to benefit at-risk youth and local citizens in need. It was the 12th time that the Magic have donated at least $1 million, and the OMYF has given more than $25 million to those in need over the past 30 years.
That commitment to the community has always given Vucevic pride to play for the Magic.
``The Magic are one of the teams that do the most work in the community and help out so much,’’ he said. ``We as players just try to follow their lead. And the City of Orlando really appreciates that about the Magic.
``It’s always so fun when you can just put a smile on people’s faces,’’ he added. ``A lot of time, it’s not even a big donation or anything; it’s just a gesture or spending time with people that matters the most. Just stopping and saying, `hi,’ or being willing to take a picture, people really appreciate those things. Little things can go a long way and that’s why I like helping out as much as I can.’’
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