This past weekend I was in Cleveland for my step sister's wedding. Being a good tourist, I went to see the sights. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (very cool) and of course the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers (the Warehouse District where the stadium is actually very nice). There may or may not have been a running bet with my sister to make as many LeBron jokes as we could (sorry Cavs fans, it is the only way we can cope with James being in our back yard).
The billboard is down, but we couldn't resist the temptation to still take a photo in front of it. As we both took our turns pretending to throw baby powder in the air a Clevelander(?) came up to us and told us we looked better than LeBron. This statement made me rethink not bringing a Magic jersey in fear fans felt we were to blame for LeBron's ultimate departure.
As we walked into Quicken Loans Arena, hoping to buy any extra Witness shirts to turn into Quitness shirts, we mentioned to the salespeople at the Cavs store our plans and we were from Orlando. They said at that point, they were big Magic fans now -- anything to beat the Heat. In fact, any time my sister and I mentioned we were from Orlando or Magic fans the response was the same. Get Miami for us. The hatred for James in his hometown runs pretty deep -- so deep that they have forgotten Orlando possibly prevented LeBron's best team from winning a title in 2009.
Orlando might now be the second most popular NBA team in town. Quite a switch from when these two teams were possibly the fiercest rivals in the Eastern Conference last year. With the vitriol that has gone James' way nationwide, Orlando might be in a position to become one of the league's more popular teams. For a franchise that has pretty much been ignored except for 17 years of its existence, that is a very interesting place to be.
What is not to like about the Magic? They play a fun style of basketball and have one of the more likeable and fun franchise players in the league.
I hope Orlando is ready to pounce on this potential. Sure, fans may forget what LeBron did this summer if Miami runs fast out of the gate. But for all those James haters remaining, the Magic might be a likely alternative to latch onto (no one really likes the Lakers unless they are from LA -- or are Yankees fans -- anyway). Orlando loved being the underdog in 2009.
The team will do it a different way this time. No one will expect the Magic to top the East and reach the NBA Finals for the second time in three years. But that will make fans nationwide perhaps want Orlando to do it more. Michael Jordan has come out and said he would not have done what LeBron did. So did Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson. They all felt there was something to winning a title on your own.
You have to imagine much of the casual NBA fans will want to see someone topple the "mighty" Heat. Who better than their division and in-state rival? All Orlando has to do is Beat the Heat.