Jimmy Hewitt believed in Magic when nobody else would

Orlando Magic founder talks about how the team got started and the hurdles they faced in bring the NBA franchise to the court.

Happy anniversary, Jimmy.

And once again -- speaking on behalf of all the sports fans in Orlando -- thank you for believing in us all those years ago.

Every time the Orlando Magic have a significant anniversary, I always give Jimmy a call just to let him know we haven't forgotten about him. And I always get him to tell me the story about how he did it and why he believed in Magic. Like listening to your favorite uncle telling stories of fighting battles in faraway lands, Jimmy's historic play-by-play account of what happened never gets old. Never, ever. Not on the 1-year anniversary, the 10-year anniversary or this 25th anniversary season of the local NBA team's inaugural season in Orlando.

If you don't know the story of how Jimmy Hewitt literally made Magic, sit down on old grandpappy's knee here and let me tell you what went down in this city a generation ago. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: Jimmy will go down in history as the father of the Orlando Magic. He not only conceived the idea of the team, he hatched it, nurtured it, supported it, protected it and, yes, put up his money to help pay for it.

"It wasn't me," Jimmy will tell you humbly. "It was the people of this city coming together for a common cause. I am just blessed to have been a part of the effort."

Without Jimmy, there would have been no effort. Without Jimmy, there would be no Orlando Magic. Without Jimmy, we would still be that two-bit sports town where fans congregated every Tuesday night for the weekly pro 'rasslin' matches at that old barn known as the Eddie Graham Sports Stadium.

But the entire sports landscape changed when Jimmy uttered those six Magical words to team co-founder Pat Williams on that September day back in 1985.

"Orlando is the place to be."

Jimmy and Pat are both spiritual men and they met when Jimmy went and saw Pat speak at a faith-based convention in Austin, Texas back in 1984. Pat, then the general manager of the powerhouse Philadelphia 76ers, and Jimmy, a prominent Orlando businessman, became fast friends. A year later, in September of 1985, Pat contacted Jimmy when he came to Orlando to speak at a basketball clinic. After the clinic was over, Jimmy and local minister John Tolston drove Pat back to the airport.

At the time, Pat was one of the most prominent executives in the NBA and had the ear of new commissioner David Stern. He sat in the backseat on the way to the airport while Jimmy and Tolston sat up front and listened to Pat's chatter about how the NBA was planning to expand into the rapidly growing State of Florida. "So," Williams asked out of curiosity, "which location in Florida would be the best location for a potential NBA franchise – Miami, Tampa or Jacksonville?"

That's when Jimmy puffed out his Orlando chest and uttered the proud, passionate words that would change the course of Central Florida sports history.

"Orlando is the place to be," Jimmy told Pat.

And then Jimmy went on to explain to Pat about how Orlando was one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States and was being populated by transplants from the Northeast and Midwest; a demographic perfect for basketball.

"But you don't even have an arena," Pat pointed out.

"We're building one,"Jimmy said.

"When will it be done?" Pat said.

"Sometime in 1990 or '91," Jimmy replied.

"Too late," Pat said.

"Then we'll build it quicker," Jimmy said. "Our mayor is very progressive and likes to get things done."

Williams told Jimmy to get back to him if the city could get the arena built by 1988 or '89. Honestly, though, Pat never really expected to hear back from Jimmy. But Jimmy had other ideas.

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