It was 1980-something. I was producing Sportstalk with Christopher Russo on WKIS-AM 740, before he made it big in New York as the Mad Dog. Our scheduled guest was then-NBA Commissioner David Stern. When I placed the phone call to get him set to go on the air, he actually asked me a question. “How do you think the NBA would do in Orlando?”
At that point in time, I’m a young die-hard sports fan like many who were starving for big league sports to come to town. I loved the NBA, with the likes of Dr. J, Julius Erving, in Philly with Orlando’s very own Darryl Dawkins, who went straight to the pros from high school. Then I became enamored with the Seattle Supersonics with Jack Sikma, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, getting up in the middle of the night to watch playoff games that were tape delayed when I was in high school. And then, the Bird-Magic era was born and the Lakers were my team with Showtime.
So when Mr. Stern popped the question, I completely with unbridled enthusiasm told him how great Orlando was and that it would absolutely be a great NBA town. (Would I really tell him anything else?). Then I put him on hold to go on the air.
Your welcome, Orlando. Glad I could clear the way for professional hoops in the City Beautiful (tongue planted firmly in cheek). It wasn’t long after that though that local businessman Jimmy Hewitt recruited Pat Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers to a town with no arena and began a campaign to bring the NBA to Central Florida.
So when the Magic began the first of their 30 seasons in 1989, I was attending the first exhibition game, having gone in with three other friends to split two season tickets. Having been there early, I ran into a former colleague of mine who was working for the Magic and they had a last minute need for some help to do stats for the Sunshine Network telecast. So I got to sit at mid-court with Chip Caray and Jack Givens as the Magic rallied to beat the defending World Champion Detroit Pistons. It was just a preseason game. But it was the first game for our team built through the expansion draft from players no longer wanted by their teams and the noise was DEAFENING. This must be what a championship game sounds like I wondered at the time, but was deprived of cheering like a maniac as that is frowned upon on press row.
That first season would produce a lot of that type of noise and I contributed my share. They started 7-7 and people were dreaming playoffs. They would only win 11 more games after that, but it hit high decibels again on a December night when they rallied late to beat Magic Johnson and the L.A. Lakers. The memories are fond ones watching the likes of Scott Skiles, Terry Catledge, Sidney Green, Otis Smith, Reggie Theus, Jeff Turner, Sam Vincent and their first ever draft pick, Nick Anderson. The loud cheering of the crowd at the old O-rena of Season 1 still remains vivid, and it has only been exceeded by the Game 7 rout of the Indiana Pacers in the 1995 Eastern Conference Final to propel them to their first NBA Final. The place we hoped and dreamed they would someday be only 5 years earlier.
Jeff Allen worked in Sportstalk radio in Orlando from 1983 to 1996. most notably as the Program and Sports Director at WGTO in the early 90's, anchoring morning sports reports and various sportstalk shows. Now, after many years, Jeff is deciding to have some fun again to share sports opinions through this blog, on Twitter @jeffallen_88 and with his podcast available on iTunes, SoundCloud and TuneIn.