Jimmy Hewitt believed in Magic when nobody else would

The very next day, when Jimmy was picking up his son from soccer practice at Lake Highland Prep, guess who else was there picking up his son? Yep, it was Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick. Jimmy nearly sprinted up to Frederick's car, eagerly told him about his conversation with Williams and convinced the mayor to set the political wheels in motion to move up the start date of the new arena.

Jimmy then put together a group of investors and flew up to New York to meet with Stern, who told Hewitt the stipulations that must be met and the hoops that had to be jumped through before Orlando would be awarded an expansion franchise. Jimmy met every stipulation and jumped through every hoop. He even convinced Pat to leave a championship organization with the 76ers and become the basketball brains of Orlando's expansion effort.

In the end, Jimmy even sacrificed his dream of being the majority owner of the team in order to get the deal done. According to the book "Making Magic" -- written by Williams and former Sentinel columnist Larry Guest -- the NBA wasn't enamored with the ownership group Hewitt had assembled. The league wanted a smaller investor group and a majority owner with deeper pockets than Hewitt. The league identified local businessman Bill du Pont, whose financial empire was worth nearly $100 million at the time, as the man to be the expansion franchise's majority owner.

"It was emotional," Williams explained in the book. "There was pain and sympathy for Jimmy Hewitt. Here he was being told his deal would fly only if he was not The Man. . . . On the half-yard line, he was being yanked out of the game, banished to the bench. Tough stuff. Hard.

"He responded beautifully. He said, simply, "Well, let's do it. . . . We have come too far and gotten too close. Whatever has to be done.' "

A quarter-century later, Jimmy sits in his office surrounded by Magic memorabilia like the framed letter from Stern officially granting Orlando an expansion franchise. Or the game ball from the first game signed by every member of the Magic's first team. Or the painting of famed sports artist LeRoy Neiman showing Michael Jordan going up against the inaugural Magic team.

"It's been a great 25 years," Jimmy says, "but the next 25 years are going to be even better."

Happy anniversary, Jimmy.

And thanks for believing in us as a sports town when nobody else would.

What you said all those years ago is even truer today.

"Orlando is the place to be."

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740-AM.

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