On June 19th, 1986 Pat Williams stepped up to the podium to address the Orlando media. “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news,” said Williams. “We’re in the chase, but we’re way behind.” The idea of the Orlando Magic was born in the public’s heart that morning, but the journey had just begun.
Pat Williams met Jimmy Hewitt in 1984 when Hewitt heard him speaking at a function in Tulsa. By pure serendipity, their paths crossed at the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando a year later. Williams, in his 11th year with the Philadelphia 76ers, had heard rumblings of the potential for an NBA expansion. While mulling over the possibility of leaving his position as general manager in an effort to be a part of something new and exciting, Pat had begun considering locations in Florida, namely Tampa and Miami. When Jimmy heard that Pat was considering Tampa or Miami, he said, “The future of Florida is here, Bubba.” Pat was dubious, especially because Orlando’s arena was still only in its blue print stage. However, he was convinced by Jimmy and Mayor Bill Frederick that the Arena could be fast tracked if there was a possibility of getting a professions sports team in Orlando. Pat flew from the airport with the growing belief that Orlando might be ready for the NBA.
All that would have to wait as Pat Williams was still under contract to run the 76ers in the 1985-1986 season. With Coach Matt Guokas, a name every Magic fan is familiar with, and a star-studded lineup featuring Moses Malone, a young Charles Barkley, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, and Maurice Cheeks, Williams knew he had a good chance at another title run. Unfortunately, their shot a championship ended when Dr. J missed a last second shot against the Milwaukee Bucks in the game 7 of the Semi-Conference Finals. Despite the fact that the 76ers had the number one first round pick and a great group of players, Williams knew it was time to migrate south.
Pat Williams flew to Orlando and met with Jimmy Hewitt and Tip Lifvendahl, the editor of the Orlando Sentinel. The next morning the first story broke in the Orlando Sentinel that Pat Williams was becoming the pied piper for an NBA franchise in Orlando. A few days later, Pat called the pivotal press conference at the Expo Centre. He announced that Orlando was going to lobby to join the NBA through the rumored expansion. The other teams in the running at that point were Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Miami. Pat announced that they would begin taking $100-per-year season ticket deposits for up to three years. Tip Lifvendahl came up to Williams afterwards and said, “Put us down for 100 tickets and a skybox.” The next morning, Jimmy went down to the post office to check the P.O. Box and found it empty, except a small note that said to speak to a clerk. He approached the desk and was told to wait a moment. The clerk disappeared, and soon returned with over 400 letters full of pledges.
Subsequently, this press conference sparked the first bit of controversy in what would be a long and heated rivalry with Miami. Pat Williams was asked what he thought about Miami also chasing a franchise and the competition that might arise. Williams answered back, “I think we all know the problems Miami has.” The next morning, the Miami Herald ran the story with the headline, “Orlando Enters Chase, Williams Blasts Miami.” Just like that, the rivalry that Williams refers to as the “Grapefruit Wall” had begun.
One of the most integral steps in creating a sports franchise is devising a name that is representative of the city. The Orlando Sentinel ran a contest, urging members of the Central Florida community to send in their best suggestions. Almost 4,000 different names were submitted within a couple of days. Four finalist names were selected as finalists: Tropics, Juice, Heat and Magic. “Tropics” was eliminated because it isn’t geographically accurate for Orlando. “Juice” was discarded because the citrus industry was having a horrific year. “Heat” was dismissed because it was deemed to be one of these least embraceable facets of living in Florida. Williams approached Disney to make sure that there wouldn’t be any conflict over the name selection. Disney approved and the rest is history.
On July 2nd, 1986, Williams, Hewitt, state Sen. George Stuart, and Mayor Frederick traveled to New York City to meet with David Stern. As they presented their deposit check of $100,000 for the official application reporters were present to snap pictures. Williams reached behind his back and plopped a big pair of Mickey Mouse ears on David Stern’s head. Quick as a whip, Stern removed the hat before any pictures could be taken. Williams had a second pair waiting and seized the opportunity again, this time pictures were taken before David Stern had a chance to remove it. Within hours these shots were printed nationally.
The Orlando Magic had officially put their hat in the ring. The arena was being fast-tracked and the citizens of Central Florida were buzzing with excitement about the possibility of having their first local professional sports franchise. The next step was creating a logo and uniforms. Enter Doug Minear. Doug created the iconic logo with the words “Orlando Magic” sprawled across a black backdrop with a trail of stars behind a basketball. Initially the colors being used were black and yellow, but they showed up on the poorest on a basketball court and were deemed to be too similar to UCF’s black and gold. The end result was the Magic blue, quicksilver, and midnight black.
By this point, two more groups had entered the expansion race: Toronto and Anaheim. Representatives from the six cities were scheduled to meet in Phoenix on October 19th, 1986 to pitch their cases to the NBA front office and the owners of the existing teams. The morning after the meeting the board conferred and called all the representatives into a room for the meeting. It was announced that an expansion committee was being formed and that it had been decided that up to three teams would be included. One reporter, Bob Ryan, later referred to this as “the most important non-game events in the history of the NBA.” Among the hoopla, Lewis Schaffel, general manager of the Miami Heat called Orlando a “second-rate city” and questioned the integrity of the ticket count in Orlando. He later apologized, but the tension was already palpable and a rivalry was ballooning before the teams ever met at the center circle.
Two months later, on December 18th, all the teams were told to meet in New York at the NBA’s headquarters. David Stern announced that two teams had been eliminated from the race: Anaheim and Toronto. They were also told that the expansion fee had expanded from $20 million to an exorbitant $32.5 million. Up until that time, the Orlando Magic ownership structure had been based around a lot of smaller, minority investors and then a few general partners. People with behind the scenes information were telling Williams that the NBA owners didn’t like that structure and that it could be a killing point for their chances at being selected. Williams approached Disney CEO, Michael Eisner. Disney originally approved the ownership under a series of provisos:
Disney would retain 20% ownership, but would put no money up. Instead they would request that the NBA drop the $32.5 million dollar fee by 20%.
Disney would design all logos, uniforms, and merchandise.
Disney could use their characters for promotion at the arena.
A “sporty” version of Goofy would be the secondary permanent mascot.
Full rights as the Magic’s advertising agency.
Promotion of Magic/Disney ticket packages, complete with ground transportation from the resorts and to be promoted on the Disney Channel.
David Stern vetoed the idea because it was deemed unfair to drop the rate for one team, and not the others. That’s when William du Pont III stepped up to the plate....
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of How the Magic Came to Orlando!