Orlando Magic Fans Are Excited, But Are We Believers?

Gem JeffersonSenior Analyst IMay 29, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 26:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic reacts after dunking against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at the Amway Arena on May 26, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Even with the Orlando Magic up in the series 3-1, I still can’t bring myself, as an avid Magic fan, to be against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Part of it is because the Cavaliers have yet to play their best basketball, but the more pertinent reason is that it just feels so surreal to have the Orlando Magic so close to the NBA finals.

I, like many Orlando Magic fans my age or older, have probably stayed loyal since the days of Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’ Neal. I loved watching Lil’ Penny commercials and Shaq destroy backboards in every city, but the joy ride was a quick one.

After being swept by the Houston Rockets in the 1995 NBA Finals it was difficult to stay positive about the future of the Magic. Shortly thereafter, it was near impossible.

Shaquille O’ Neal, in perhaps one of the most pivotal free agent moves in NBA History, signed with Los Angeles Lakers, leaving Hardaway and the boys to fend for themselves.

Penny became injury-ridden and his career spiraled downward, and, for a while, hope was non-existent.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Then came our saviors—Grant Hill and one of my favorite players of all-time, Tracy McGrady. After signing these two stars, we were Finals-bound once again.

McGrady became a star for the ages, earning every dollar of his contract, and Hill was everything he was in Detroit; then the injury bug struck again.

Hill went down first and went down hard with injuries that almost destroyed his career. Hill never hit full stride for an entire season for Orlando, but would put on brilliant stretches for 10-20 games at a time.

In fact, Hill—in seven seasons with the Magic—only played 30 games twice, and the hefty contract he was signed to made it hard for Orlando to recover from.

McGrady on the other hand, only played less than 75 games once, and led the Magic to the playoffs three of the four years he played in Orlando.

Unfortunately, McGrady was never able to advance to the second round of the playoffs in a Magic uniform, despite once having a 3-1 lead over the Detroit Pistons in the first year of the seven-game, first round format.

Both Hill and McGrady are wearing different jerseys today, and the Orlando Magic are led by a new core, eerily similar to the one that made the Magic of old great.

The face of the franchise, 2004 1st Overall pick, Dwight Howard mans the middle as “Superman 2,” following in the shoes of none other than Shaquille O’ Neal. Acquired in the same draft at No. 20, the Magic were able to steal Jameer Nelson, the field general stepping into Penny's Role.

Alongside them are the additions of three-point specialist, Rashard Lewis (more athletic and game-changing Dennis Scott) and the 6’10” point forward, Hedo Turkoglu (Nick Anderson with height and point guard tools).

Mikael Pietrus, JJ Redick, Anthony Johnson, and Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston, were all recently added to a very dangerous and lately, frighteningly effective, Orlando Magic squad.

This team is up 3-1 and every Magic fan and LeBron hater is chomping at the bit, but I think we’re all a little nervous as we are approaching a place we haven’t been in 15 years. Every time we get close, something goes wrong or someone gets injured or leaves and the team regresses.

I think Orlando fans as a collective whole are excited but weary. It’s been a roller coaster ride and we’re at the peak once again. We need to close this one out tonight if we’re going to stay at the top.

If we close out tonight, is the team ready to face the Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets? That’s a bridge we’d all be glad to cross.