WASHINGTON, D.C. – The NBA was stunned and saddened on Wednesday when it was announced that NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern died as result of the brain hemorrhage that he suffered approximately three weeks ago.
Stern, the NBA’s commissioner for 30 years from 1984-2014, was 77 years old. Stern is widely considered one of the most influential and ground-breaking commissioners in U.S. sports history because of his vision in growing the NBA domestically and ultimately making it a world-wide game.
``David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA,’’ NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. ``Because of David, the NBA is truly a global brand – making him not only one of the greatest commissioners of all time, but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation. Every member of the NBA family is beneficiary of David’s vision, generosity and inspiration.’’
Stern played a major role in the Magic becoming an NBA expansion franchise in 1989 when he believed in the potential of Orlando and the vision of magic co-founder Pat Williams. Stern also played a major role in Orlando being awarded NBA All-Star Games in 1995 and 2012.
``The Orlando Magic is deeply saddened by the passing of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern. David was not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all-time, but he was one of our world’s greatest business leaders,’’ Magic CEO Alex Martins said.``From the moment he led the NBA Board of Governors to approving the granting of an NBA franchise to Orlando, he was a friend and advocate of the Orlando Magic and NBA basketball in Orlando. He was both a great friend and mentor to me personally and I will miss him dearly. On behalf of the DeVos Family, the coaches, players and staff of the Orlando Magic, we extend our deepest condolences to David’s wife, Dianne, their sons, Andrew and Eric, and their extended family.’’
Magic guard Evan Fournier, a native of France, dreamed years ago of someday playing in the NBA and he knew that it was a possibility because of the work that Stern did in growing the game globally. Fournier, the 20th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, said he was in awe of meeting Stern prior to becoming an NBA player seven years ago.
``He definitely opened a lot of doors for international players and he’s really the mastermind behind the NBA becoming global,’’ Fournier said. ``He impacted basketball in so many ways.
``I met him during draft day (in 2012) and he was very cordial, and you could tell he was a real professional by knowing my name already and getting the right pronunciation,’’ Fournier recalled. ``For me, being the guy from overseas, I was like, `Wow, I’m getting to meet David Stern.’ He was, to me, the single (entity) of the NBA.’’
GORDON IMPROVING, OUT AGAIN: As expected, Magic forward Aaron Gordon was held out for a second consecutive game on Wednesday because of lingering soreness in his left Achilles’ tendon.
Gordon left last Saturday’s game in Milwaukee early in the third quarter when he deemed the pain in his Achilles to be too severe. He and the Magic got good news the next day when an MRI showed that there was no structural damage in his Achilles and that he would be allowed to return as soon as the irritation subsided.
Gordon didn’t play on Monday against Atlanta or again on Wednesday against Washington. The team’s hope is that the 6-foot-9, 230-pound power forward will be able to practice on Thursday and be ready to play Friday night against the rival Miami Heat.
``I think (on Thursday) we’re going to get back on the court and it’s feeling a lot better,’’ Gordon said of his Achilles’ tendon. ``(Athletic Trainer/Manual Therapist) Aki (Tajima) has been doing a great job with it, getting the swelling down.’’
Gordon ranks third on the Magic in scoring (13.2) and he’s tied for second in rebounding (7.1). He is considered the team’s best on-ball defender and Orlando will likely use him to check star guard Jimmy Butler on Friday if he’s cleared to play. Like his fellow teammates, Gordon was deeply saddened by the loss of David Stern.
``He did so much for the game, put it in a great place and left it in great hands with Adam Silver,’’ Gordon said. ``I would have loved to have met him. It’s too bad about (Stern’s) passing. There’s so much that he did for this game to make it so successful and make it the best league in the world. It’s just sad to see him go.’’
ANOTHER HOMECOMING FOR FULTZ: A return trip home for point guard Markelle Fultz, who grew up in the suburban Washington, D.C. area, couldn’t have come at a better time what with him going through his first stretch of on-court struggles this season with the Orlando Magic.
Fultz, of course, is no stranger to real struggles after seeing most of his first two NBA seasons wiped out by a lingering shoulder injury. This particular down stretch, he said, only further motivates him to up his game and get back to the high levels that he’s played at most of his first season with the Magic.
``I’ve been in the atmosphere of (rough times), being with the team, but it’s definitely something that’s different for me. But I’m still learning, and this is all a learning experience for me,’’ said Fultz, who played his 33rdgame on Wednesday – as many as he played in his first two NBA seasons because of a bout with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his right shoulder. ``I just want to get better as fast as I can and the faster that I can do it, the better off this team will be. I think I’m pretty mature and I’m learning the game pretty fast, but I’ve got to make more improvements and less mistakes each game.’’
Fultz came into Wednesday’s game against the Wizards – a team he grew up rooting for and watching while hoping he would someday make it to the NBA – in a rut offensively. He made just one of 10 shots on Saturday in Milwaukee and then made just one of seven against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday – both losses for the Magic. Fultz somewhat made up for his shooting woes by handing out 11 assists in those games, but he admitted afterward that he knows that he needs to be more aggressive in looking for his own shot.
``Offensively, I’m looking to be more aggressive as far as scoring,’’ said Fultz, who came into Wednesday averaging 11.2 points and 4.3 assists per game. ``That doesn’t always mean (shooting) but getting in the paint and us always getting a good shot. Whether that’s me dropping it off or pass, pass for a basket. That’s what we’re looking for.’’
Fultz still leads the Magic in drives into the paint per game (11.4) – a key statistic that head coach Steve Clifford values because of how that action gets the team easy points and open looks on kick-out 3-point shots.
Playing before dozens of family members and friends back on Dec. 3, the 21-year-old Fultz played one of his best games in Washington. He had 20 points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals while playing in Washington for the first time since his first NBA game to open the 2017-18 NBA season.
``Any time I get a chance to play where I was born and raised, it’s big for me because a lot of my family and hometown friends can come and watch,’’ said Fultz, a native of Upper Marlboro, Md. ``But the biggest thing for me is getting the win. It’s definitely going to be good to have my family there again, but the biggest thing is getting this is about this team and getting a win.’’
UP NEXT: The Magic will be at the Amway Center for the weekend what with them hosting back-to-back home games on Friday and Saturday nights.
First up for the Magic are the Miami Heat, one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season because of their early success. The Heat went into Wednesday with a 24-9 record. While the Heat have been dominant at home (15-1), they have been somewhat shaky on the road, going just 9-8.
Orlando won three of four meetings against Miami last season – one of the primary reasons that the Heat missed the playoffs.
On Saturday, Orlando faces a Utah Jazz team that it likely still remembers quite well from their meeting three weeks earlier in Utah. On Dec. 17, the Magic rallied in the second half, led by seven points with 4:44 to play and seemed poised to nab a road win. However, Donovan Mitchell and Bogdan Bogdanovic combined to score 17 points down the stretch as Utah used a 19-4 run for a 109-102 win. Bogdanovic, who has averaged more points in his career against the Magic than any other NBA squad, had 30 points that night.
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.