ORLANDO – A legendary American success story as a businessman and a noted philanthropist for his many charitable ventures, Rich DeVos’ nearly three-decade ownership of the Orlando Magic often ranked third on his list of lofty accomplishments.
Still, the impact that DeVos was able to make at the NBA level – specifically with the hundreds of Magic players he encountered through the years in one-on-one locker room chats – was realized on Thursday upon his death at the age of 92 years old.
Just as they had done numerous times before, past and present NBA players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Jameer Nelson and others, reached out to Magic CEO Alex Martins concerning Mr. DeVos. On Thursday, several contacted Martins and Magic leaders to pass along their condolences and fond memories about a man they considered to be, ``the best owner in the NBA.’’
``You’d be amazed at how many players and former players I’ve already heard from today, including Shaq and Jameer and several others,’’ said Martins after announcing that DeVos – the Magic’s owner since 1991 – had died at his home in Ada, Mich.
``They loved him as an owner and they’d always say to me personally, `He’s the best owner in the NBA,’’’ Martins continued. ``I can’t tell you how many times after players were traded or released or signed contracts elsewhere, when they’d be in warmups before games and I’d be out on the floor, they’d come up to me and ask, number one, for Mr. DeVos and how he was doing. And, number two, they’d say, the biggest thing that they regretted about their career was that they left the Orlando Magic. And that’s all because of Mr. DeVos and his family and the way that (players) were treated while they were here. He treated people incredibly well and wanted to treat them better than anybody else did and that included our players and coaches.’’
Added NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: ``One of the NBA’s longest-serving owners, Rich DeVos formed a deep bond with the city of Orlando, and whether hosting the Finals or All-Star festivities, he was always incredibly welcoming to the NBA family. And on a personal note, I am grateful for his friendship and counsel over the past 25 years. We send our heartfelt condolences to Rich’s family and friends and the entire Magic organization.’’
DeVos died on Thursday following complications from an infection. His death comes nearly 11 months after the Magic organization was rocked by the death of Helen DeVos, Mr. DeVos’ wife of 63 years, before her passing last October. Martins said on Thursday that the Magic will wear `RDV’ patches on their uniforms this season and there will be a notation on the Amway Center parquet floor honoring the franchise’s legendary owner.
Now, less than three weeks before the Magic are to begin their season – one that Mr. DeVos was eagerly anticipating, according to Martins – the franchise must try and continue the legacy of an owner who always expected his franchise to be dynamic difference-makers on and off the basketball floor.
``We need to live our lives the way that Rich DeVos lived his life,’’ said an emotional Martins, who visited the Magic owner 10 days earlier. ``We need to continue to lift each other up and continue to build our community off the court and we need to run our franchise with a high level of integrity and strong work ethic. We must ensure that this is the community’s team and one that it can be proud of. That’s the way that he operated this franchise and it’s our responsibility now in his legacy to maintain that.’’
Upon buying the Magic in 1991, DeVos famously vowed that the team actually belonged to the people of Central Florida and he was merely a steward for the franchise. He always stressed that the Magic would strive for success – both as a championship-caliber team on the floor and a difference-making entity in the community.
In that respect, the Magic captured two Eastern Conference crowns, five division titles and won at least 50 games seven times during DeVos’ ownership. Twice, the Magic came close to winning a championship for Central Florida, losing in the NBA Finals in heartbreaking fashion in 1995 and 2009. Martins said being unable to secure a championship for DeVos will always be one of his greatest disappointments professionally.
``My biggest regret today is that we didn’t bring him an NBA championship,’’ said the Magic CEO, who had known and worked with DeVos for the past 27 years. ``We’ve said for years that we’ve got to get this done before he left us and that is the unfinished business, unfortunately. He wanted (an NBA championship) badly, but it’s not like he walked around saying it to everyone, `I’ve got to get an NBA championship; I want a NBA championship.’ You knew it from his actions and you knew it from the resources that he brought to the organization and you knew it from the way that he encouraged everyone.’’
DeVos’ son, Dan DeVos, has served as the Magic’s Chairman and representative on the NBA’s Board of Governors since 2011 and he will continue in that role going forward. Ceding control of his decision-making roles allowed Mr. DeVos to devote his full attention to what he always referred to himself as: ``the team’s biggest cheerleader.’’
Despite being confined to a wheelchair much of the past two years, he attended approximately 20 home games while rooting on the team from his customary seat along the baseline near the Magic bench. Before and after games, he’d show his support to the team’s players and coaches in the best way he knew how – through genuine, heart-felt words of encouragement.
``He was in that locker room every night that he was here in the building. And he’d go around to every single player in that locker room – before and after the game – encouraging them before the game and shaking their hands afterwards even after a loss and telling them, `That’s OK, you gave it your best,’’’ Martins recalled. ``That’s what who he was. He did want to win a championship and we wanted to win a championship for him. I’d say my biggest regret today is that we didn’t win a championship before he left us.’’
There is no regret, Martins stressed, in how the Magic have approached their active role in the Central Florida community because of the mandates made by DeVos for decades. DeVos’ philanthropic fingerprints can be seen all over Orlando and Central Florida whether it be his creation of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at UCF, the eight community gymnasiums in Orange County, his contributions to the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center or his charitable donations following the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando in June of 2016.
Under the DeVos family’s direction, the Magic support the local community through sponsorships of events, donated tickets, autographed merchandise, and grants. In addition, over the last 28 years, various local nonprofit community organizations have received support through the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation which serves at-risk youth and has impacted more than one million children. Magic community relations programs annually impact an estimated 100,000 kids each year, while the Magic Volunteer Program (MVP), an organizational staff-wide initiative, provides more than 7,000 community volunteer hours annually. Through the years, the franchise has donated more than $24 million to the community.
``We’re going to miss how generous of a person he was,’’ said Martins, speaking for the entire Central Florida community. ``As an individual and with his family, he donated hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of his life to causes that helped make people better – healthcare, education and many others – including many in our local community, in our Parramore community. … He was about making people’s lives better and that will be missed.’’
Martins said that he doesn’t anticipate any change in the Magic’s ownership in the near future because of the family’s complete investment in the franchise. In addition to Dan DeVos serving as the franchise’s chairman, Ryan DeVos – one of Mr. DeVos’ many grandchildren – recently completed a successful first season as Director of Magic Gaming. Martins figures the legacy started with the Magic via Rich and Helen DeVos will continue for years to come via the patriarch’s and matriarch’s children and grandchildren.
``The team is very much engrained into their family,’’ Martins said. ``The second generation (of the DeVos family) has owned the franchise for quite some time now as Mr. DeVos actually had no ownership of the team itself recently. Dan DeVos has been our chairman now for seven years and in recent years the league transitioned team governorship from Mr. DeVos to Dan. And, as a matter of fact, we have (DeVos) grandchildren working in the organization. So, this is something that the entire family embraces and I would envision that they would continue to be the stewards of this franchise for a long time.’’
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