Jimmy Hewitt Inducted Into Magic Hall of Fame
By John Denton
March 29, 2017
ORLANDO – Without Jimmy Hewitt’s vision and passion, Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard and others likely never would have played NBA basketball in Orlando.
Without Jimmy Hewitt’s belief in the only place he’s ever truly considered home, the 1995 and 2009 NBA Finals and the 1992 and 2012 NBA All-Star Games never would have been staged in Central Florida.
And without Jimmy Hewitt’s relentless and unwavering persuasions about what Orlando could someday become, there almost certainly never would have been an Orlando Magic franchise.
For his efforts in helping pursue, co-found the franchise and land an expansion spot in the NBA, Hewitt was honored on Wednesday with induction into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. Hewitt joins legendary owner Rich DeVos, co-founder Pat Williams and players O’Neal, Hardaway and Nick Anderson as members of the Magic Hall of Fame, which is displayed at the Nutrilite Magic Fan Experience at the Amway Center.
To hear iconic Magic figures such as DeVos and Williams say that there would be no NBA franchise in Central Florida without Hewitt’s stumping for the area was especially flattering, he said again and again on Wednesday.
``It makes me feel unbelievably special,’’ Hewitt said. ``I started it, we went forward and worked it out and Pat (Williams) came and he’s still here. … Today was very emotional. (The Magic) were the greatest group I could ever be involved with and they’ve been phenomenal in everything they’ve done with (the franchise). The DeVos family has been fantastic. We did it because we wanted Orlando to continue to grow and be bigger and better.’’
It was 1985 during something of a chance encounter when Hewitt and Williams first discussed how they thought the NBA would go over in Florida, which at the time had zero NBA franchises. The fiery responses that Williams got from Hewitt told him something about the strong belief in Orlando’s potential.
``When I threw it out there, `Miami or Tampa, Jimmy?’ and he erupted like that (in defense of Orlando), I was shocked,’’ Williams recalled. ``I said, `Are you serious?’ And he said, `Absolutely.’ He told me the future of this state was in Orlando and he gave me a stern talking to.’’
Williams said that when Hewitt dropped him off curbside at the check-in for Delta Airlines that day, he figured he’d never hear from Hewitt again. Little did he understand at the time just how bullish and passionate Hewitt was about Orlando’s potential.
Hewitt, an Orlando native who graduated from Edgewater High School and made a name for himself by selling real estate in Central Florida, did the legwork in putting together a potential ownership group and securing the political backing for an arena to be built if Orlando ever earned a franchise bid from the NBA.
Hewitt did all that he could, but knew deep down that he needed someone with NBA ties to ever get then-NBA commissioner David Stern to take Orlando seriously. That’s when he wisely turned to Williams, a GM for the Philadelphia 76ers for 12 years at the time, and Hewitt did so while applying a firm bit of pressure.
``Without Jimmy, there would be no Orlando Magic and we wouldn’t even be here,’’ Williams said on Wednesday. ``I flew back to Philadelphia to get ready for the start of the (1985-86) season, never thinking I’d hear back from Jimmy Hewitt again, but the next week he called and said, `Bubba, guess what? I’ve got a meeting with David Stern and we’re going up to visit with him.
``Now it’s April of ’86 and Jimmy calls me at home and he says, `Bubba, I have done everything that I can do to get this thing ready – we have a building ready to be built, my ownership is in place and the mayor is supportive,’’’ Williams recalled. ``He said if you’ll leave the 76ers and head this thing up, we’ll go forward. If you decide to stay in Philadelphia, I’m just going to drop it. That is called `Decision Time.’ As I look back over my life and some of the decisions I’ve had to make, I’d say (partnering with Hewitt) was probably the best one.’’
The Hewitt and Williams duo proved to be a formidable one. On April 22, 1987, Orlando was granted an expansion franchise by the NBA. Play wouldn’t begin until the 1989 season, but it was during the process of pitching Orlando to the NBA owners in Dallas that Hewitt knew Central Florida – always known for being a football-first hotbed – would quickly fall in love with professional basketball.
Hewitt took in a Mavericks-Celtics game and he saw Dallas stun Boston despite a big performance from Larry Bird. The excitement in that arena had him craving the same sort of buzz for his hometown of Orlando.
``The place goes crazy, I look over at (then-Mavs owner) Don Carter and I look at the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach and the place is going crazy,’’ Hewitt recalled. ``Forgive me, but I looked up and I said, `Dear Lord, if you could just package this all up and bring it to Orlando, we’d be so happy we can’t stand it. And He did it and I’m giving Him all the credit.’’
Plenty of the credit, too, belongs to Hewitt for his many selfless acts along the way. He put his ego to the side and moved into a minority ownership role in 1987 when the NBA wanted William DuPont to be the team’s primary owner. Also, Hewitt was influential in bringing in Michigan-based billionaire Rich DeVos to be the franchise’s owner in September of 1991. DeVos, along with wife Helen, attended Wednesday’s ceremony as a way of showing thanks to Hewitt for all that he did in helping bring NBA basketball to Orlando.
``It’s always been a joy to be with Jimmy and it was a joy to learn from him and become a part of the excitement and culture of the Orlando area,’’ said DeVos, owners of the team for the past 26 years.
Hewitt said he takes great pride in seeing how Orlando has grown through the years. He is hopeful that bringing the Magic to Orlando plays a small piece in helping to make Central Florida a better place to live.
``Orlando is unbelievable and a beautiful city,’’ Hewitt said. ``I’ve lived here all my life, since 1941, it’s always been a fabulous city and it’s growing more and more. The whole point is, Orlando is a beautiful city with a great population and (having pro sports) has allowed us to go on and move forward and keep growing. It’s a fabulous city and I’m proud of it.’’
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