No Hell Like Orlando

Brian DiMenna

Oh man, the Magic.

Orlando is already kind of a depressing town. The theme park capital of the world, its streets are filled mostly with jean shorts and Olive Gardens. The whole area is kind of a study in things that sound fun but really aren’t.

But watching Orlando this year is like watching sadness personified. The Magic used to have Dwight Howard, like literally just last year, and now they most certainly don’t.

“But don’t they have Big Baby?” Why yes. “Well, isn’t he just as good?” Totally … just shorter … and fatter … and, you know, not nearly as good.

But the history that brought them here makes the whole sordid situation even sadder.

Finding yourself in the position of having the top overall pick in the draft is random enough. Consider that since New York’s own good fortune in 1985, they haven’t been there since.

But the top of the draft is not always created equal. Sometimes it’s Patrick Ewing, other times Andrea Bargnani and every so often it’s Kwame Brown and a kick in the junk. Behind Door No. 1 might be an all expenses paid trip to the tropical paradise of David Robinson, or it could be death by Shawn Bradley. You just never know.

The Orlando Magic have won the NBA Draft Lottery three times since 1992. In each of those three instances, truly franchise-altering players awaited them.

In 1992, they selected Shaquille O’Neal, an impossible mixture of size and athleticism. Sometimes I think Shaq’s later years have clouded out the memory of his prime, but at his best he was utterly terrifying. Shaq was so dominant he starred in Kazaam and everyone was like, “Ok, that’s fine.”

A year after Shaq, the Magic hit the jackpot again. This time, Chris Webber awaited, but concerned that Webber and O’Neal would clog up the paint — a fear that in hindsight looks pretty silly — they swapped Webber for point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, undeterred by the fact his name had an “f” where one clearly didn’t belong.

Now, there’s no need to hash out all the ways this went wrong, with Hardaway’s health deteriorating beginning around age 25, before O’Neal bolted to LA to begin a dynasty with the Lakers.

A decade later they found themselves sitting at the top of the draft with another freakish blend of size and power awaiting them in the form of a teenager named Dwight Howard. His shoulders were included. It was a second chance. Surely, this could not be ruined again?

And yet, here we are. Orlando finds itself picking up the pieces after losing a dominant center for the second time in fifteen years. It’s just an impossibly depressing feat.

A franchise is lucky to get one of those players in a lifetime, but to waste TWO of them over a twenty-year stretch is almost incomprehensible. It’s like Green Bay losing Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to the Cowboys in consecutive decades without anything to show for it.

So think of that while you’re watching the Magic tonight, as JJ Redick tries to lead them hopefully to the Sweet Sixteen, I guess, and feel free to flash a wry smile that says, “Wow, it really doesn’t get worse than this.”

I guess at least they’ve got Disney World. The churros are heaven.

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