Jimmy Hewitt, Orlando Magic Co-Founder, Passed Away on Sunday

Dan Savage
Director of Digital News

ORLANDO -- One of the visionaries and architects of the Orlando Magic died early Sunday morning.

Jimmy Hewitt – a co-founder of the Magic and Central Florida businessman, passed away at 79 years old. According to reports, he had been suffering from advanced stages of dementia and recently contracted the coronavirus.

“Jimmy Hewitt is the reason the Magic and professional sports exist in Orlando,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said in a statement released by the team. “It was Jimmy’s belief, perseverance, community spirit and vision that ‘Orlando is the place to be’, which brought NBA basketball to Orlando and Central Florida. He is truly the founding father of the Orlando Magic and for that we will be eternally grateful. He was like a father to all Magic fans and we will miss him dearly.”

Hewitt’s belief in Central Florida as a destination for professional sports helped make the NBA in Orlando a reality.

The idea blossomed in 1985 a year after Hewitt met former Magic Senior Vice President and co-founder Pat Williams when he heard the then-Philadelphia 76ers general manager speak at a Texas function. Becoming fast friends, Williams reached out to Hewitt when he was in Orlando a year later speaking at a local basketball clinic and it was on that drive back to the airport that Williams presented a history-altering question to Hewitt – “which location in Florida would be the best location for a potential NBA franchise – Miami, Tampa or Jacksonville?” Hewitt uttered the words that would forever change Central Florida, “Orlando is the place to be.”

“I started working in conjunction with Pat on this idea of trying to bring a basketball team to Orlando,” Hewitt said in an interview with OrlandoMagic.com in 2016. “I had put everything in place with ownership, an arena and the backing of the city. Then I called him one night in late April of 1986. And I said, ‘Bubba, we’ve gone about as far as we can go down here. If you come down here and spearhead it, we’ll go forward. If you don’t, we’ll pull the plug.’”

“Pat told me later that there was a restlessness in his spirit and that he ‘needed a new adventure,’” he continued. “We finally got him to take the leap of faith and he resigned his position as GM of the 76ers. And the rest is history.”

On July 27, 1986, Hewitt, Williams and then-Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick presented NBA Commissioner David Stern with a $100,000 check and a set of Mickey Mouse ears, and the Magic were born. On April 22, 1987, the NBA Board of Governors granted an expansion franchise to Orlando, and on Dec. 22, 1988, the Magic sold their 10,000th season ticket, fulfilling a commitment to the NBA and securing their place in the league.

For his efforts in helping pursue, co-found the franchise and land an expansion spot in the NBA, Hewitt was honored on March 29, 2017 with an induction into the Magic Hall of Fame. Hewitt joined late Magic owner Rich DeVos, Williams, play-by-play broadcaster David Steele and players Nick Anderson, Darrell Armstrong, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, and Shaquille O’Neal as members of organization’s Hall of Fame, which is displayed at the Nutrilite Magic Fan Experience at the Amway Center.

“It makes me feel unbelievably special,” Hewitt said at the time of his induction. “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.”

Hewitt took extreme pride in the steps the franchise took over the years. From two trips to the NBA Finals (1995 and 2009) and two All-Star games (1992 and 2012), Orlando has been at the epicenter of the league’s universe on numerous occasions.

However, the moment that perhaps gave him the most pride was the first night basketball officially tipped off in the city.

“I was there that night celebrating with our brand-new Magic fans,” Hewitt said of the Magic’s first preseason game, a win against the then defending champion Detroit Pistons. “It was such a joy to see all of them so happy and wrapped up in their new team. The city celebrated as if we were NBA Champions. We had worked so hard for three years to turn that dream into a reality. And now, it was happening right in front of our eyes. I never will forget that.”

Hewitt – who affectionately called all his friends and acquaintances ‘Bubba’ – leaves behind his wife, Rosemary, of nearly 60 years, his son Ben and his daughter Whitney.

"It takes a special person to move big ideas forward and Jimmy Hewitt was certainly that," the DeVos family said in a statement released by the team. "A natural leader, an optimist, a cheerleader and a dreamer, Jimmy was the spark that brought the NBA and the City Beautiful together and we are forever grateful to him and the group he assembled for their tremendous efforts. It is an honor to be stewards of the team they created, and we are dedicated to modeling the same positivity and perseverance with the Magic that Jimmy brought to everything he did. Jimmy famously said that ‘Orlando was the place to be’ and we couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Jimmy – you will be greatly missed but always a part of the Magic organization. Our thoughts are with Rosemary, Ben, Whitney and the entire family during this time."

He raised his family in Central Florida and watched as Orlando grew dramatically since bringing the city its first professional franchise. Orlando City Soccer (Major League Soccer), the Orlando Pride (National Women’s Soccer League), the Solar Bears ( East Coast Hockey League) and Magic Gaming (NBA 2K League) now all call the city home.

But the ball would have never started rolling without Hewitt.

“It all started with our quest to bring the Magic to town,” Hewitt said in that aforementioned interview. “What a ride it has been.”

What a ride indeed.