When So-So is So Fun

I haven’t been this pumped for a Magic season in many moons. Yes, it’s partly because their No. 1 draft pick, Victor Oladipo, a future All-Star (count on it), played for my Indiana Hoosiers.

But Victor just adds to my resurgent interest in the Magic, which was ignited by last season’s 20-62 clinic in pain management. I’m not kidding—I’m just old school.

The basketball junkie in me was more engaged by the development of young talent like Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic, and rookie coach Jacque Vaughn mixing Xs and Os like a mad scientist, than when the game plan was pounding the ball into the middle to Dwight Howard. That was like watching an oil rig for two hours—a rig that clanked free throws.

But ultimately it was not Diva Dwight or first-round playoff losses that caused my interest in the Magic to waste away over the past decade. It was the thudding predictability of how the game has come to be played in the NBA—a league of the superstars, by the superstars, for the superstars. Bought, paid for and choreographed by TV.

On any given trip down the court in the NBA you can bet your overpriced arena beer on one of two things happening: 1) The ball goes inside to the dominant big guy to back in like a beeping forklift at Home Depot for a dunk or baby hook, or 2) One side of the court is cleared out for the grossly overpaid superstar to do his SportsCenter highlight move or turn the ball over trying.

This mind-numbing game plan requires two things the Magic did not have last season—a dominant big man and a superstar. So they were forced to rely on solid veterans, promising newcomers, adequate role players and scrappiness, which is why I enjoyed watching them so much, and also why they went 20-62.

Yes, I just used “enjoyed” and “20-62” in the same sentence, which is not the way the NBA has trained us to think. In greedy cahoots with television, NBA Inc. has taken what once was a great sport and merchandised it into cash-cow “entertainment,” defined by superstars and championship rings. I wouldn’t mind, if the result on the floor wasn’t so boring.

But it is what it is. We are stuck with Commissioner David Stern’s National Basketball Attraction. If you’re an old-school junkie jonesing for the classic jump shot, the motion offense and bizarre defensive schemes, head to the nearest high school or college gym.
Meanwhile, there are steps the Magic could take to improve the fan experience and keep it as “real” as possible in the palatial TV studio known as

Amway Center:
1) Stop the hokey organ music when the Magic are bringing the ball up the court. DA-duh-da-da-DA-duh-da-da. If I want organ music with my action, I will buy a ticket to The Phantom of the Opera.
2) Stop using flashing giant clapping hands on the digital scoreboard to tell me when to cheer. I’ll decide when, and I don’t need an instructional video. To paraphrase Bob Knight: Most of us learned to clap in kindergarten and moved on.
3) Ditto the order to “Stand and cheer your Orlando Magic!” If you have to ask…it’s just embarrassing.
4) Shoot more T-shirts into the “cheap” seats. We need them up there to stay warm, and anyone who can afford $150 for a ticket can buy their own T-shirt. Note to high rollers: There are no lines in the souvenir shop in the middle of the fourth quarter when you leave.
5) Stop handing out those migraine-inducing paddle noisemakers. They are obnoxiously loud and block my view. Instead, give us a coupon for 25-cent popcorn. (Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.)
6) Dizzy Bat at halftime of every game. Best fan participation stunt ever. Two guys running tight circles around baseball bats with their foreheads on the knobs, then trying to run in a straight line and crashing like drunken sailors—that’s entertainment.

Even if Magic management ignores all my suggestions—a better bet than Dwight missing his next free throw—I’ll be at Amway for a few games this season, up in the Himalayan cheap seats. For the rest, I’ll be camped in front of my TV, following coach Vaughn’s and general manager Rob Hennigan’s intriguing work in progress, on good nights and bad.

Take it from a roundball junkie: The Magic are getting better fast. Catch them now—before they get so good it’s no fun anymore. 


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