Denton: Let the Games Begin at Amway Center

By John DentonOctober 9, 2010
ORLANDO – The construction has been finalized, ribbons have been cut, tours have been granted and politicians have spoken ad nauseum. Now, all that is left for Orlando’s dazzling new Amway Center is to serve its primary purpose: Hosting an actual basketball game.

Someday soon the breathtaking, $380 million Amway Center will host top-name concerts, political conventions and a variety of NCAA events. But on Sunday night at 6 p.m. when the first-ever NBA game is tipped off inside of the facility, Amway Center will officially become the home to the Orlando Magic.

There was a particular strategy behind Amway Center’s open date: 10-10-10 for what figures to be a ``Perfect 10’’ for the fans, the players and hundreds of events that the sparkling facility will house in the coming years.

For those who have ventured inside the grand space already and have seen all that Amway Center has to offer, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be ``wow.’’ That’s certainly a feeling shared by Magic President Alex Martins, who has overseen the approval, construction and overall vision of Amway Center for the past five years. And Martins isn’t shy about saying that Orlando is now home to the best arena in North America.

``Yes, it is (the best), bar none,’’ Martins said confidently. ``I tell (cities like Indianapolis with Conseco Fieldhouse) that they have a beautiful facility, but they don’t have the best anymore. I really do believe with the vision of this building makes it the most modern, technologically advanced facility in North America. We’ve said it for a long time, but until you see it for yourself you don’t believe it. But when all of the reviews are in, we fully believe this will be characterized as the best of the best.’’

The Magic, which host the New Orleans Hornets tonight, are delighted to call the downtown facility their new home for both games and practices. City of Orlando leaders pushed for the Magic to move their headquarters from Maitland’s RDV Sportsplex to the new building because of the visibility they will provide downtown Orlando. And the Magic were more than happy to do so considering the plush, state-of-the-art facilities that they now have to work and play in.

Magic superstar center Dwight Howard spent the first six years of his NBA career playing in the Amway Arena, which was home to the Magic for the past 21 seasons. Howard said that while Amway Arena and Amway Center share the same sponsorship name, the comparisons between the two buildings stop there. And he is immensely excited about the prospects of playing now in the facility that he already considers the best in the NBA.

``I’m pumped for the fans and the whole City of Orlando to see the new arena. It’s going to be exciting for them because it’s a great place,’’ said Howard, the face of the Magic franchise. ``It’s like moving into a new house for me. And this time I’m going from a little house to a real big, beautiful house.’’

And Howard and the Magic feel the best possible scenario for opening their new venue is with a championship banner celebration in June. And there’s certainly a precedent established for teams in all sports winning titles after opening new facilities. To wit:

  • In the NBA and WNBA, the Los Angeles Lakers immediately won three consecutive championships after moving into Staples Center in 1999, while the L.A. Sparks won two crowns. The San Antonio Spurs moved into the AT&T Center in 2002 and proceeded to win the 2002-03 NBA championship. The Miami Heat became champs in 2005 just five years after moving into American Airlines Arena. And after the Bulls moved from venerable Chicago Stadium to the United Center in 1994, they proceeded to win three consecutive rings starting in 1995.
  • In Major League Baseball, it’s been done twice in recent years. The St. Louis Cardinals moved from the old Busch Stadium to across the street to the new Busch Stadium in 2006 and proceeded to beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series. And last year, the New York Yankees won the World Series in its first season in Yankee Stadium.
  • And several teams in the NFL have made a habit out of getting a competitive bump from moving into new facilities. The St. Louis Rams (2000), Pittsburg Steelers (2005), New England Patriots (2004 and ‘05), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2003) and Baltimore Ravens (2001) won Super Bowls within five seasons of moving into modern, state-of-the-art facilities.
  • ``Our team is already very good coming into this building, but hopefully our bump from the new building will be that push over the hump to win a NBA championship,’’ Martins said. ``If you look back over time, there are a lot of teams that have won championships in their first year in a new building. The excitement of the fans and the excitement of how it motivates a player do play a role. You don’t ever get (to a championship) if you don’t already have a good team, but clearly the excitement surrounding teams has helped them take that last step toward a championship.’’

    Martins figures he toured every major professional sports venue in North America -- some of them as many as three times when it came to Indiana’s Conseco Fieldhouse – when formulating the design elements for Amway Center. From those facilities, he took the best of the best features and implemented them into Orlando’s venue.

    The result was an 875,000-square-foot facility that dwarfs Amway Arena (367,000 square feet). The facility, which will seat 19,700 for some concerts and 18,500 for Magic games, has eight levels and five concourses. There are 60 suites, 1,400 club seats, 68 loge boxes (328 seats) and 17 hospitality areas. And the enormity of it doesn’t stop there with 37 restrooms, 18 elevators (and four towering escalators) and a concession point of sale for every 125 spectators. And a major point of emphasis was making amenities such as many of the restaurants, bars and the Kidz Zone available to ever ticket-buyer whether they have a $5 stub or a $500 one.

    There was also much thought put into the Magic’s training facilities since the team will now be headquartered there all of the time. The lockerroom is plush and built in a circular style to promote team building. One door leads to the Amway Center court, while another takes players to the practice court.

    The weight room, training room and family rooms are all within a J.J. Redick 3-pointer of one another for player comfort. And just about every meeting space in the building is adorned with large dry-erase boards per the request of President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith. Smith said that the ability for Magic players to play and practice at one building can’t be understated.

    ``I think the novelty of home being home is awesome,’’ said Smith, the architect of the Magic’s most successful team in franchise history. ``To have one place that you go every day to call home, you can’t have enough of that in this business. Driving the same route every day, using the same locker and going to the same place – you can’t have enough of that in professional sports. Guys are creatures of habit and there’s an extra value in having that comfort.

    ``The practice area, the medical areas and the strength areas those have to be top-notch, and they are. And your technology as it relates to basketball video have to be top notch. Those things were accomplished for us,’’ Smith continued. ``If it’s not the best facility in the league, I’d be hard-pressed to find another one. The basketball area, as it relates to the prep for the game, is the best.’’

    Smith only has one concern as it relates to the new Amway Center. And he asked that one message be sent out to fans before Sunday night’s opener. ``Everyone is going to want to look around the building and do all of the things that the Amway Center has to offer and I’m kind of worried about them missing the actual game,’’ Smith said with a chuckle. ``So my hope is they will do that all they want during the preseason, and then when the regular season starts we need them to be in their seats and be loud.’’

    John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.