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This is part 2 of 3, so if you like this segment, come check me out!
Originally one of the minority owners, Pat Williams approached du Pont to ask him if he would be interested in stepping up from minority partner to general partner. Understanding the gravity of the situation, du Pont agreed. Later, it was revealed that the NBA didn’t want Williams to be involved as an owner and a general manager and that the board still wanted a majority operating manager. Pat Williams relinquished all of his shares, and Jimmy Hewitt, who can easily be accredited as the second most pivotal person in bring a franchise to the city, dropped the majority of his shares to become a minority owner. The Orlando Magic had their first Managing General Partner in William du Pont III.
On March 2nd, 1987 the NBA Expansion committee visited Orlando. It was made very clear that they didn’t want the media to catch wind of their arrival, because they didn’t want to see a staged reaction from Orlando. After touring the Arena construction site they were confronted outside by protesters. The committee members were hurried into cars, but they were followed by a pickup truck filled with angry protesters. The van driver gunned it across Colonial and down Edgewater Drive in College Park, eventually losing their pursuers. Despite the chaotic incident, the members seemed to be genuinely impressed with the progress Orlando was making with the construction of the Arena and with their advanced ticket sales.
One of the most pivotal moments during this expansion period came in April of 1987 in New York City. All of the teams were gathered and told that a decision had been made. Representatives from the teams awaited the news while David Stern, the owners, and all of the members of the Expansion Committee convened. During their meeting, a controversy about the placement of teams in specific divisions arose. The issue is that expansion teams begin with a lower caliber of talent and therefore generally maintain losing records for their first few seasons. This places their division rivals in a favorable situation, because they have a total of four games against a much weaker opponent. Therefore any team in a division with an Expansion team has a distinct advantage. Gary Bettman, the league counselor, came up with a plan that is simply referred to as “The Bettman Plan.” The idea behind this plan is that each Expansion team will rotate between different conferences and divisions in the first three years, and then the divisions can be shifted to make sense geographically. The preliminary agreement placed the Magic in the Central Division in their first year, the Midwest division in the 2nd year, and the Atlantic division for its third year. After their meeting they addressed all of the teams individually, notifying them that all four teams would be admitted, as long as they maintained certain criteria, the 10,000 ticket pre sale being tantamount. The only bad news that came from this meeting was that the Magic would start in 1989 with Minneapolis, while Miami and Charlotte would begin a year before.
That evening at Church Street Station, Bob Snow threw an enormous celebration with plenty of live TV and radio coverage. Pat Williams and Jimmy Hewitt wore T-shirts that said “WE BELIEVE IN MAGIC!” Orlando had officially claimed a professional sports team, as long as they could maintain interest and sell 10,000 tickets and complete construction of the Arena on time.
The Arena’s construction had been fast tracked and it was time to choose a name for the complex. Many names were considered and rejected. Eventually, it was decided that most of the names were too chichi. The name that stuck was the Orlando Arena. Taking a look back, there were some pretty interesting contenders for the title, including:
- The Alpha
- The Omega
- The Ultra
- Magic Palace
- The Cauldron
- The Quest
- The Centro
- The Grove
- The Podium
- The Orlandome
- The Orbit
- The Centrum (the building’s working name when it was originally proposed in the 1960s)
Everything was finally coming together and it was time to staff up. Pat Williams approached Matt Guokas, with whom he had worked with for many years in Philadelphia. Guokas had been the head coach during the 76ers championship run in the 1982-1983 season. Matt visited Orlando and again the Magic representatives wanted to shield him from the over-aggressive media. He stayed at Danny Durso’s house. At one point, they visited the UCF arena and darted out of a back door when they saw that UCF assistant coach, Eric Dennis was on the court shooting baskets. Despite probably being a little uncomfortable with all of the cloak and dagger antics, Goukas eventually did accept the job to become the first Head Coach of the Orlando Magic franchise. Pat Williams set up a press conference to introduce him to the public in his new role for the first time, but unfortunately Williams forgot to check with Guokas to make sure he could make it. It turned out that Matt Guokas was supposed to attend his nephew’s graduation and wasn’t the time to miss an engagement that he had promised to attend. So Pat took a little beating from the press when he introduced a coach who was neither present, nor had prepared a written statement of acceptance. The next morning, at a subsequent press conference, Guokas showed and formally announced his new position to an appeased gathering of the local media. Ex-San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Bobby Weiss would be named as the Magic’s first ever assistant coach. Getting a coach of his caliber as an assistant was an incredible stroke of luck. He actually appeared to be the front-runner at the time for the Minneapolis Head Coaching position.
Throughout the course of all these events, an ominous deadline was looming. Reports were coming in that all of the other cities were struggling to meet their 10,000 ticket quota. With 8 weeks until their deadline, Miami was only at 7,500 tickets sold. The Magic were faring a little better, but were struggling to collect the rest of the money owed from those who had secured their seats with the initial deposits. The prices on seats were extremely competitive for the time. Regular seats ranged from $344 per season to $1,395 for the prime seats. Skyboxes were priced at $45,000 for the first three years, and $50,000 for the following two years. With time running out the Magic had reached a point where they needed to secure over 100 tickets a day for the last couple of months. A letter was sent out, essentially telling people that their tickets had been cancelled. This sent people into a frenzy of apologies and resulted in a flurry of checks flooding the Orlando Magic head office. With nine days to go, Greg Wallace of Bug Hut, an auto repair shop, came into the office and bought the last eight season tickets to become the 10,000th ticket buyer.
With the logo designed it was time to create a mascot. Quite a few ideas were tossed around. Here’s a few that never made it:
- A magic bean with a big star on its torso
- A rabbit with a cape and a magician’s top hat
- A tourist-looking character with stars for eyes, a wizard’s cap, short shorts, and a star studded t-shirt.
- A funny looking character that was a cross between a wizard and a ringmaster
- A Muppet-like character that had palm tree leaves sticking out of the top of his head.
- A cat dribbling a ball with star-studded shorts (looked a lot like Simba from the Lion King)
One of the designs in this batch was a rudimentary version of what would become Stuff. Originally, he was supposed to be purple. However, it became apparent that he closely resembled a Disney character named Figment that was used at Epcot. His design and color were eventually adjusted to create the loveable, green dragon that we all know today. He was first introduced on Halloween in 1988 at Church Street Station. Leading up to this momentous occasion, there was a big campaign including strange footprints leading from the arena to a giant, broken eggshell. Also, there were all kinds of reported “sightings” around town. The media really ran with the campaign and turned the unveiling into a huge events. Even USA Today, reported on it. Dave Raymond, the guy inside the Philly Phanatic, was hired to play Stuff for a one time appearance. Two local magicians, Giovanni and Tim, put on the entire show. Curly Neal began by performing tricks to get the crowd warmed up. Giovanni and Tim then put him into a giant box that was attached to a pole. The pole lifted up and as it reached its pinnacle, Stuff leaped out of the box and forever into the imagination of Orlando’s loyal fan base.
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