This is what you have, Orlando Magic fans.
These are the players who want to play for you.
"This is the place I want to be," team captain Jameer Nelson says. "I love this team, and I love this town."
And this is what you have, Orlando Magic players.
These are the fans who want to cheer for you.
"I'm not quitting on the Magic just because Dwight Howard did," said Carlos Gomes, a local photographer decked out in his Jameer jersey.
These are the die-hards and the devoted; the firm and the faithful. These are the players and fans who showed up for opening night on the first official calendar day in The Year 1, AD.
And guess what? Contrary to popular belief, the Magic somehow were able to still field a team Friday night even without Howard. The players played hard. The dancers danced provocatively. The Fat Guy jiggled. The fans cheered. The arena rocked. And, yes, the Magic even beat the Denver Nuggets 102-89.
Memo to Dwight Howard: If the playoffs started today, the Magic would be in and the Lakers would be out.
On this first opening night of the post-Dwight Howard era, the Amway Center was filled with fans and players who seemed ready to not only celebrate the beginning of a new era, but to commemorate the Dwightmarish, dysfunctional end of an old one.
Which is probably why so many fans were partying like it was 1989 on this opening night. That, by the way, was Year 1: when the Magic were an expansion franchise and the city cheered them on just because they were the only team in town. That's pretty much how the fans this year feel, too.
Back in 1989, the team was filled with a bunch of journeymen and a few up-and-comers with little hope of making the playoffs. Sound familiar? One ESPN.com writer predicted this year's Magic would win just 16 games — two victories less than they recorded during their expansion season.
"This year has the feel of that inaugural season," Magic co-founder and team executive Pat Williams said. "Back then, we didn't know what he had or what to expect."
The more things change, the more they remain the same. The same could be said about this year's team. The Magic have a new GM, a new roster, a new coach and even a new national anthem singer. Where was Gina Marie Incandela, the little local girl who usually belts out the Star-Spangled Banner on opening night? Don't tell me she's singing for the Lakers now, too?
Not only was new coach Jacque Vaughn's college mentor at Kansas — Roy Williams — on hand, so was Vaughn's new team-first college philosophy. In fact, the public-address announcement reverberated the message throughout the arena before the game: "This is your town! We are your team! We will work hard! We will play with passion! We will play for each other! We will play for Orlando!"
Translation: That guy who didn't want to play for his teammates and play in Orlando is gone now. And we're moving on.
"There were no agendas out there, no distractions," said Magic guard J.J. Redick after his 21-point performance. "It's kind of nice to play basketball and that be the focus."
Said forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who led the team with 29 points and 10 rebounds: "Everything is more wholesome and pure now. When you've got guys who don't want to be here, it's funky. You can sense it. It's just better when guys want to be here and buy into the culture."
In a league built around coddled superstars, the Magic are preaching the name on the front of the jersey, not on the back of it. Of course, it's not like they have a choice. Howard, the greatest player in franchise history, forced a trade and took down the greatest coach in franchise history — Stan Van Gundy — on his way out of town.
And so now the Magic are trying to pick up the pieces once again. Just like after Shaq — and T-Mac — left. This time, under new whiz-kid general manager Rob Hennigan, they are trying to rebuild differently and more prudently — by clearing salary-cap space and acquiring draft picks.
The Magic's new mantra is "We Will" although nobody truly knows exactly what that means. We will … what? Make the playoffs or win the lottery?
Those are questions for another day.
On opening night, hard-core fans came to cheer loudly and proudly for die-hard players they can trust.
"It feels good to have all of the uncertainty behind us," said Alex Hernandez, an English teacher at Colonial High School. "As fans, we want to root for players who are loyal and who want to be here."
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