Hello NBA world!
We are a week away from the All-Star celebration at the Amway Center. The Magic have officially vacated the premises for a four-game road trip over the next week. The NBA has officially moved into the Magic's year-old home to get it ready for its big international debut.
Yes, we know the Magic would not be hosting their second All-Star Game without the palatial new arena. It is going to be a crazy weekend in Downtown Orlando and the Amway Center is going to be the centerpiece of it all. At least, for the major events.
A lot of stuff will be going on all over the city. But Amway Center is the focal point.
And Amway Center is a palace. Ridiculously large concourses with interactive activities celebrating Magic history and Orlando heritage. Dozens of artwork celebrating Magic history -- the one of Jeff Turner on the club level is my favorite! OK, really it is the Vitruvian Howard -- and all the fixings of a modern arena.
There are bars everywhere. the O-Zone, the Budweiser Baseline Bar, the Jack Daniels Terrace and the Sky Bar. That is where a lot of people will be sure to be hanging out and checking things out throughout the weekend.
I am also sure they will be staring in awe at the giant scoreboard hanging over the court. I am sure the NBA has some fun things planned for that giant scoreboard.
For those preparing to enter the Magic's home for the first time will be awestruck by everything inside the arena. Or at least that is what Alex Martins will tell you and how I felt when I stepped into Amway Center for the first time.
The NBA is going to put on one hell of a show.
But this is Orlando's show. And Amway Center is Orlando's building. Yes, it is plastered with Magic stuff everywhere and all anyone will talk about is Dwight Howard. This event is about Orlando showcasing itself as more than just Disney.
For once, Orlando's weird configuration is going to serve it well. Many of the media events and the Jam Session will take place at the Orange County Convention Center. Players and media will be staying on that side of town and will descend upon Downtown Orlando for the evening events. These events will cater more toward the stars that show up.
All of Orlando will be on display.
Sure, some of the players will try and find the time to take the family to the parks. But the parks are not the point of All-Star Weekend. Players and celebrities will be hosting parties throughout the city and everyone else will try and get into the various downtown bars.
This is Orlando's chance to show itself off as a city. Shaquille O'Neal is right, this city is much different than it was 20 years ago when it hosted the All-Star Game. This city has the state-of-the-art arena and the postgame fun to match.
Those visitors to Orlando will see the city as itself and not as the conduit for The Happiest Place on Earth. Not that Disney and Universal (and SeaWorld... and LegoLand... and Busch Gardens down the road) are not good things. They are part of Orlando too.
But just like that first walk into Amway Center -- which you just have to explore every nook and cranny of -- this is the chance for everyone to truly experience Orlando as a city.
I think they will. And Orlando is happy to welcome the NBA world into the City Beautiful.
Time to show off, Orlando!