David Steele Grateful and Honored to be Latest Magic Hall of Fame Inductee

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – Humble and never one to take himself too seriously despite his lofty stature as ``the voice of the Orlando Magic,’’ David Steele’s curiosity started playing tricks on him prior to this NBA season when he got a rather vague e-mail from team CEO Alex Martins about a proposed meeting.

The e-mail came just weeks before the Magic were about to begin their 30th season, and Steele – one of three employees throughout the history of the franchise – wondered quietly if the end was near for his storied career as a radio and television play-by-play announcer at the NBA level.

``He sent me an e-mail and just said, `I’d like to take you to breakfast or lunch,’ so I was thinking everything because it was before the season starts,’’ Steele remembered, referring to the correspondence with Martins. ``We’ve known each other a long time so it could have been anything. But the fact that he didn’t say what it was about made me think of a multitude of possibilities, and one of them was, `Well, this might be it for me.’’’

Steele, 65, learned then that instead of being forced from his job that he would be inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. That day finally arrived on Friday, and Steele admitted that he’s still as floored by the honor as he was the day that he found out he’d be the franchise’s eighth member of its Hall of Fame. Former standout players Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, Nick Anderson – all of whom had their Magic exploits described by Steele on television and radio – were previously inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with late owner Rich DeVos and co-founding fathers of the franchise, Pat Williams and Jimmy Hewitt.

Always prepared and smooth behind the microphone, Steele admitted to being somewhat uncomfortable being perched behind a microphone and talking about himself for such a prestigious honor.

``I’ve had a lot of attention on me, which I’m not very used to and not very comfortable with,’’ said Steele, who prepared earlier in the day to call Friday night’s Magic-Bulls game on Fox Sports Florida. ``But at the same time, it’s been kind of fun to reflect on 30 years of all the people and events that have happened. We don’t normally do that; we just work. But I’ve had a chance to look back and it’s been fun.’’

Many of Steele’s contemporaries and co-workers, such as Fox Sports Florida color analyst Jeff Turner and sideline reporter Dante Marchitelli, have had fun in recent months and weeks by kidding their close friend about landing the Hall of Fame nod. Actually, though, they are overjoyed for such a humble and hard-working professional being honored for his talent and professionalism over the past 30 years.

``You admire how prepared he is and how he never takes this job for granted,’’ said Marchitelli, a co-worker alongside of Steele’s for the past 20 years – eight of which on TV broadcasts. ``And it’s the quality of a person that he is that you admire most.

``None of this (Hall of Fame hype) gets to his head,’’ Marchitelli marveled. ``It’s his voice that is married to every great moment that we’ve had in our history – he is Orlando Magic basketball – and none of that affects him or changes him. In this business it’s not always the case to be humble, but David’s as humble now as when he first got here.’’

Steele got to Orlando some 30 years ago, and he’s been around for the highs of Shaquille O’Neal bringing down backboards in New Jersey and Phoenix, Nick Anderson knocking the ball away from Michael Jordan and the Magic reaching the NBA Finals in 1995 and 2009. His first nine seasons came as the radio play-by-play voice, while the last 21 have been on television. Steele’s staying power, his ability to come up with the right phrase at the right time and his constant hunger to inform viewers with interesting nuggets of information has allowed him to become unofficially, ``the voice of the Orlando Magic.’’

A lifelong sports fan who grew up listening to some legendary announcers while living in Kentucky and Tennessee, Steele said he’s finally started to understand the magnitude of being so closely attached to many of the biggest moments in Magic history.

``I had a hard time understanding that people look at me in that way (as ``the voice of the Magic’’), but then I think about how I felt about (the University of Kentucky’s) Caywood Ledford and (the University of Tennessee’s) John Ward and how special they were in my mind to my childhood, my youth and my growth as a young sports fan,’’ Steele said. ``Then, I understand how some people look at me. But there’s a responsibility there, so you don’t ever want to let people down and you want to always do a good job.’’

Steele has been doing a good job for 30 years largely because he is a stickler for preparation before games. He usually works four-to-five hours on his lineup cards for games, scribbling down both general info and interesting, quirky facts about players and teams that might liven up broadcasts.

Always looking for ways to shoehorn more information into a telecast while still keeping things light and fun, Steele introduced a playful segment entitled ``Is This Anything’’ in recent years. Steele has been known to pour over statistics for hours in pursuit of a statistical nugget that a viewer might find interesting, and he clearly takes great pride in uncovering info that fans might be unaware of.

During a recent broadcast, Steele wanted fans to understand how good Magic guard Terrence Ross has been at making contested shots this season, so he uncovered statistics of NBA players making shots from at least 10 feet away with a contesting defender within two feet. Steele’s stats revealed that Ross is the NBA’s leader in that category, making 47.1 percent of such shots.

``It just energizes me,’’ Steele said of his pregame prep work. ``I’m kind of curious by nature and I like to learn things outside of sports. I like to read and uncover knowledge that I didn’t know already, so that’s kind of my nature. That’s the process of getting ready to do a game – coming up with interesting tidbits that you might be able to use during a broadcast. Most of it doesn’t even make the air, but if it doesn’t fit, you don’t want to force information in there. But I just like the process of finding stuff.’’

Steele might have never found his way to the NBA were it not for an act of kindness by Magic co-founder Pat Williams back in 1988 when Steele’s mother, Cora Steele died. Steele spent much of the early years of his career working as a college play-by-play voice, and even today he is credited with calling the first 3-point basket in college basketball history – by Western Carolina’s Ronnie Carr in 1980. He’d love to go back and listen to what he said that night, but that isn’t possible because of the lack of technology at the time.

``I have no idea (of the call) because no one can find the audio or audio,’’ Steele said. ``(Ronnie Carr) signed the basketball and it’s in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, (but there’s no audio or video of the moment).’’

When Williams was putting together the Magic back in 1988, he sought out Steele – the radio play-by-play voice of the Florida Gators’ football and basketball teams at the time – to work for the Magic. Steele was comfortable at the college level and wondered about the risks of jumping to the NBA. When his mother passed following a battle with lymphoma, Williams wrote him a hand-written note and gave him a book that discussed how to deal with the grief of losing a loved one. That act of kindness hit home with Steele – someone quite familiar with doing the same for others – and it played a role in him ultimately deciding to join the Magic.

``I don’t want to overstate it, but it’s something that I remember to this day,’’ Steele said of Williams’ note. ``It just gave me a comfort level going into the (Magic) organization because I had been told about the quality of the people in the organization for a pro sports team.

``A university is a big entity and the Gators aren’t going anywhere. So, (UF) was such a solid job to have at my age and to jump out of that, it was a little bit of a risk,’’ he added. ``If this had been a fly-by-night, poorly run operation, it would have been bad. But it was good in the beginning and it got even better when the DeVos family bought the team.’’

And Steele never looked back after making the jump to the NBA. Known primarily for his preparedness, Steele has also made his mark among Magic fans for saying just the right thing at the right time to describe key moments in franchise history. His favorite call ever – Anderson’s bat-away steal of the ball from Jordan in the second round of the 1995 Eastern Conference playoffs – still evokes chills and cheers from Magic fans.

``(Toni) Kukoc will inbound it. Jordan takes it. Anderson’s there with him. Anderson trying to steal it,’’ Steele said at the time on the Magic Radio Network. ``Jordan dribbles around him. Clock is down to 12. And Anderson stole the ball! (Penny) Hardaway picks it up, two-on-one. Penny bounce pass to (Horace) Grant. He dunks it! 6.2 seconds to go! Nick Anderson stole the ball! Nick Anderson stole the ball from Michael Jordan!’’

That timeless, emotion-filled call still stands up today, some 24 years later. It was the biggest moment of Steele’s career and he absolutely nailed it. Moments like those are why he is considered ``the voice of the Magic’’ today. And as of Friday, they are why he is the newest member of the Magic Hall of Fame.

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