How the Magic Came to Orlando

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.

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.

High octane sporting events all have a few things in common: screaming fans, jock jams, and cheerleaders. In order to create the necessary level of showmanship and excitement at the Orlando Arena, it was imperative that an incredible squad of local talent be assembled. Jodie Pennington was a choreographer for the FSU Golden Girls. She was eventually hired to become the head of the first ever Magic Girls. Tryouts were held in the fall of 1988 and received huge press coverage. Sixteen girls were selected to the first ever Magic Squad at an event at night club, J.J. Whispers, that fifteen hundred people attended. The Orlando Magic ran a huge, color photo of the girls two mornings later.

The pinstripe is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Magic’s history. Even years after the pinstripe had stopped being the primary design of the Orlando Magic’s uniform; one of the most renowned online Magic forums was titled “Orlando Pinstriped Post”. Every true Magic fan has bled Black and White pinstripes for over two decades. Originally the design was discarded because at the time it wasn’t possible to print the pinstripe on a material thin enough to be comfortable for an NBA player. However, an old material called Durene was found to be perfectly suited to the task, and over the course of a year, the uniforms were designed and created. They were unveiled to the public at the Omni hotel on October 21st, 1988 with the media present as the Dr. Phillips High School Band played as the newly assembled Magic Girls cheered on.

Unfortunately, the Magic do have to play half of their games on the road, so the next big step was to find a network that would carry all of Orlando’s games. The two major stations competing were the Sunshine Network and SportsChannel Florida. The Sunshine Network already reached 1.5 million homes, whereas SportsChannel Florida reached only 200,000. However, SportsChannel Florida already had exclusive rights to the Florida Gators and the Miami Heat. After tough negotiations, it was decided that the Orlando Magic wanted to have their own station, separate from their basketball rivals from southern Florida. Sunshine Network became the exclusive cable provider for the Orlando Magic local market.

“Have shoes, will travel!” This was the ad that legendary basketball star Darryl Dawkins placed in the Orlando Sentinel when he announced that he was going to come play in summer practice camps in 1988. He had actually ended a press conference the season before by saying, “Pat Williams get my contract ready! And make it big!” One of the most colorful characters in the history of the NBA, Darryl wasn’t exactly known at the time for being humble or magnanimous. However, he was a fantastic athlete and a definite crowd stopper, having shattered a few backboards in his time. Also, he had been drafted by none other than Pat Williams in 1975 (the first player ever to be drafted to the NBA straight out of high school), so a positive relationship existed. He showed up to the first rookie practice at the UCF arena and left thirty minutes later, saying he wouldn’t risk getting hurt without the assurance that he already had a roster spot. That presented a problem since they wanted to see him play to see if they wanted to add him to their roster. He no-showed for a second meeting, and the bizarre Daryl Dawkins saga ended as abruptly as it began.

Every piece was in place and every duck was in order. It was time for the expansion draft. June 15th 1989, representatives from Minneapolis and Orlando meet in New York in a closed session. An NBA representative, Gary Bettman, conducted the meeting through a conference call, and announced that each team would be provided five minutes for each pick. It turned out that both teams needed far less time than that, due to extensive scouting. Representing the Orlando Magic was owner Bill du Pont, General Manager Pat Williams, Attorney Robert Fraley, their assistant Rick Neal, and publicity guy, a young Alex Martins. Prior to this meeting the Orlando Magic had reached an agreement to sign Jeff Turner, who had played the previous two seasons in Italy. The rules of an Expansion Draft are relatively simple. Each existing team is allowed to protect eight players from their roster. Any exposed players are available for selection. Listed below are the results of the 1989 Expansion Draft:


Sidney Green (Knicks)

Reggie Theus (Hawks)

Terry Catledge (Bullets)

Sam Vincent (Bulls)

Otis Smith (Warriors)

Scott Skiles (Pacers)

Jerry Reynolds (Sonics)

Mark Acres (Celtics)

Morlon Wiley (Mavericks)

Jim Farmer (Jazz)

Keith Lee (Nets)

Frank Jonson (Rockets)


Rick Mahorn (Pistons)

Tyrone Corbin (Suns)

Steve Johnson (Blazers)

Brad Lohaus (Kings)

David Rivers (Lakers)

Mark Davis (Bucks)

Scott Roth (Spurs)

Shelton Jones (Sixers)

Eric White (Clippers)

Maurice Martin (Nuggets)

Gunther Behnke (Cavaliers)

The Orlando Magic’s first roster was assembled. Jeff Turner would join the team as well and that only left two spots left, to be filled in the Magic’s first ever NBA Draft.

June 27th, 1989. The Magic were ready for the NBA Draft, but there was a problem. They didn’t feel like they had a serviceable starting center on their roster. They were scrambling to try to find one, but there wasn’t any good options available at their number eleven pick in the first round. The GM of the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Krause, had offered Dave Corzine for two future 2nd round draft picks. Unfortunately, there was a contingency attached. The Bulls would only do the trade if they were able to receive J.R. Reid, Danny Ferry, Pervis Ellison, or Stacey King with their number six pick in the first round. The draft began and the first two picks were Pervis Ellisson and Danny Ferry, which lead to an unbearable tension among the Magic front office. As the minutes dragged by, it was beginning to look like the trade might disappear as quickly as it had begun. San Antonio and Miami owned the next two selections and in a stroke of luck for the Orlando Magic they chose Sean Elliot and Glen Rice, respectively. The Bulls chose Stacey King, and the trade was secured. Now it was time for the Magic to focus on their first ever draft pick. Their scouting had them extremely excited about one particular player out of Illinois. This was a huge moment. This selection was their first shot at getting a young player that could really make a long term impact on the team. With the number eleven overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic choose…

Excerpt from The Magic Word blog at



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