Tag Archives: Orlando

Is Penny Hardaway a Hall of Famer?

Penny Hardaway is one of the most iconic NBA players on and off the court in the last 20 years, and should be in the Hall of Fame.

This weekend eleven basketball legends will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Iconic names like Tracy McGrady, Rebecca Lobo and George McGinnis to name a few, will take their rightful place in the hallow halls of Basketball Heaven. One name that isn’t in those halls, that should be, is Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Hardaway was a unique talent. While he played fourteen seasons in the NBA, he’s most known for the six years he spent in central Florida. From 1994-2000, the 6 foot 7 inch point guard for the Orlando Magic displayed an ability to score in an explosive manner like Mike, while also being able to set up his teammates like Magic. His was a rare talent that could do it all, years before the LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s, Giannis Antetokumpo’s of today.

He reached icon status off the court as well with his alter ego Lil’ Penny and his Air Penny signature shoe line with Nike.

But, injuries robbed him of his prime and longevity at being an all-time great. But make no mistake, there was greatness.

Let’s look at the resume: Four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and 1993-1994 All-Rookie Team selection. 1996 Gold medalist. And when Shaq left the “City Beautiful” for the “City of Angels”, Penny kept carrying the Magic to the playoffs when everyone else thought they would fold.

In his six seasons with the Magic, he averaged 19 points, 6.3 assist, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. When he retired he was third on the Magic career list in assists (2,343)—now fourth, third in steals (718), and fourth in points (7,018)—now seventh.

For those of you who closely look at the advanced numbers, with Orlando, Penny had a PER of 20.2, a true shooting percentage of 56%, grabbed 7.3 rebounds on a 23.9% usage rate.

He also delivered when it counted most, in the playoffs.

In eight playoffs trips with Orlando, Phoenix and the New York Knicks, Hardaway averaged 20.4 points per game, 6.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals in sixty-four games.

But don’t discount the college career, because that’s also valued when a player is considered for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. So many forget that it’s not just a professional basketball Hall of Fame.

Hardaway was a consensus All-American in 1993, twice awarded the Great Midwest Conference Player of the year (Conference USA) and has his number 25 jersey retired by the University of Memphis State. He did that before they became a national power and dropped the “State” from their name.

Penny’s impact on the Magic’s history is very similar to his former running mate Shaq. Together they led the Magic to their first ever playoff appearance (1994) and NBA Finals (1995). He also drew his share of the national spotlight with his Nike commercials starring Chris Rock as “Lil’ Penny”, Hardaway’s alter ego to promote his signature shoes which are still widely popular and sought after decades after their initial retail release.

If Penny were to get inducted, he would be the first Magic player to go in solely on their exploits in the black and royal blue pinstriped jersey.

Shaq is there for his contributions as a Los Angeles Laker. 2017 inductee Tracy McGrady will be going in mostly for his time as a Houston Rocket. And, if Grant Hill gets in—which he deserves to be—it will be for a combination of his collegiate career at Duke and the six years with the Detroit Pistons where he was LeBron before LeBron.

Longevity during your peak shouldn’t be the end all be all when determining if a player is HOF worthy. Penny’s time with the Magic alone should be enough to get him a coveted orange blazer. Not to be rude, but if Yao Ming can get inducted, you’re going to tell me PH1 isn’t a Hall of Famer? I’m not buying it.

Advertisements

A Free Agency Wish List For the Orlando Magic

Photo Credit: Kavis Peak 2016

The Orlando Magic’s pressing needs on draft night were shooting, scoring and perimeter defensive. The first two weren’t addressed. Hopefully those needs will be addressed in free agency.

The past regime was reckless with their spending on free agents. They always swung for the fences and missed terribly. Look no further than last summer’s signings of D.J. Augustine, Jeff Green and Bismack Biyombo.

There are no big fishes to chase this season. That is probably a good thing since the Magic has only $14.6 million in cap space.

However, there are several lower tier players that compliment a young core of Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Nik Vucevic.

Due to financial reasons, nabbing only one of these free agents is highly possible. Unless they can unload Biyombo’s massive anchor of a contract, then maybe two is possible.

TIM HARDAWAY, JR – (25 years old) 6’6″ 205lbs – RESTRICTED

Hardaway Junior is restricted so the Atlanta Hawks could match any offer he receives. THJ is a shooter with length to become a defensive standout. 2016-2017 was a breakout season for the 4-year pro. He averaged 14.5 points per game on 54% shooting on 2’s and 36% on 3’s. Most importantly he competes, on both ends, something that can’t be said about several guys currently on the Magic roster.

OTTO PORTER, JR  – (24 years old) 6’8″ 198lbs – RESTRICTED

Potter Junior was the Washington Wizards defensive stopper in 2016-2017. That’s the number one reason the Magic should be attracted to him. The second reason is because he finished fourth in the Association in 3-point percentage at 43.4%. Porter also shoots 58% on 2’s. He averaged 13.4 points per game, on ten shot attempts per game, for a team where he was the fourth option. If Orlando signs him, he adds much-needed shooting and allows the team to be an aggressive perimeter defensive team. He can play three positions in today’s small ball NBA.

JONATHAN SIMMONS – (27 years old) 6’6″ 195lbs – RESTRICTED

Any player from the Spurs system is all right in my book. Simmons is a defensive ace, with elite athleticism. He showed his offensive improvement throughout the 2016-17 season. That continued in the playoffs in the absence of MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard due to ankle injuries. His shot still needs improvement, but even at 27, Simmons has shown he still has room to grow. Adding him alongside Terrance Ross, Aaron Gordon and number six overall pick Jonathan Isaac, this could be one of the most athletic teams in the NBA. They should thrive in an up tempo style of play.

SHABAZZ MUHAMMED – (24 years old) 6’6″ 223lbs – RESTRICTED

Minnesota may no longer be an option for him since they have acquired Jimmy Butler. Muhammed will turn 25 years old during the season. He’s a bigger guard that looks to slash and attack the basket, but he also has shooting touch. Last season he shot 53% on 2’s and 34% on 3’s, on seven shot attempts per game. He could carve out a niche for himself as the sixth man in central Florida.

BEN MCLEMORE – (24 years old) 6’5″ 195lbs – UNRESTRICTED

“Experts” say he underachieved in Sacramento, but how much of that is on him when he played for the most dysfunctional franchise in the Association? There’s a reason they’ve been in the lottery over the past decade. Also look at how they fumbled the Boogie Cousins situation and their coaches.

McLemore has huge potential. He shot 38% for 3’s and 46% from 2’s on seven shot attempts, while playing only nineteen minutes per game in 2016-2017.

If you haven’t noticed a trend in my wish list, it’s young, long, athletic guards that can play two positions.

Free Agency tips off at 12:01 Saturday, July 1st. General Manager John Hammond and his staff should be on the phone with the agents of the guys I’ve listed. Adding one of these guys to what is already in the cupboard could propel the Magic to a place they haven’t been in five seasons.

Magic Use 3rd Quarter Explosion & Ross to Rout Atlanta

The Magic’s new acquisition, Terrance Ross, led Orlando with 24 points in their 105-86 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

The Orlando Magic has DESEPERATELY needed shooting and outside scoring all season. On Saturday night against the visiting Atlanta Hawks, they looked like that had never been a problem.

Who knew they might have found it by giving up the interior defensive player they highly coveted since Dwight Howard left five seasons ago.

Orlando held a three-point halftime lead at 49-46. In the third quarter, where they’ve struggled all season, they stretched that lead to 15 behind a 31-point quarter, while holding the Hawks to only 19. The catalyst behind the second half surge was Terrance Ross.

Ross, who was acquired before the All-Star break for Serge Ibaka, made General Manager Rob Hennigan look like a genius for that move Saturday night against the Atlanta. He played 35 minutes and scored 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting, 4 of 7 from 3 point range in Orlando’s 105 to 86 victory.

Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, the Magic ran several plays for Ross where he came off a pin down screen by a big and curled into the lane for a pull up jumper.

All this coming off a disappointing performance in his debut game in a blue and white uniform where he made only four shots on seventeen attempts.

The 26-year old former NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Champion didn’t just do it on offense end. Orlando’s new acquisition got his hands in the passing lane and created several turnovers. He had two steals and a block. Atlanta had 17 on the night leading to 26 Magic points.

The addition of Ross not only gives them the scoring punch they need, it also allows Aaron Gordon to play the power forward position — where he’s started the last two games — where he’s probably more suitable to play in today’s small ball style of the NBA. Gordon responded with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting and several of his usual above the rim highlight plays.

After the game, Gordon told the Magic Live/Fox Sports Florida crew “I’m continuing to play on the perimeter just at the four position, it spreads the floor so much and I can pick and choose when I want to post up.”

Elfrid Payton was the beneficiary of having a spread court to roam through. Payton flirted with a triple-double dishing out 9 points, grabbing 9 rebounds while scoring 15 points. The offense was free flowing.

Nikola Vucevic looked liked his old self as he outplayed his predecessor, Dwight Howard, with 16 points and 14 rebounds. “Vooch” was able to play the pick and pop game he’s been so successful at during his time in a Magic uniform with Payton.

The spacing didn’t just help in the half court. Orlando played at a faster pace in the open court off Hawk misses and turnovers, scoring 27 fast break points. The youth movement was in full display against a quality opponent that has a lot to play for, and coming off a tough loss to the Miami Heat in south Florida the night before.

For one night, GM Hennigan looked like he may have solved the riddle that’s been holding this team back all season. Question now is, is it too late for a playoff push with 22 games remaining and 7 games back of the eight seed?

Probably so, but what this team needs is to build momentum going into the offseason. A strong finish will go a long way in setting the tone for the 2017-18 season.

The Magic have three days off to get some practice time before they host the New York Knicks Wednesday night at the Amway Center.

City Game: Orlando (Central Florida)

Sunshine, theme parks, beaches and great shopping aren’t the only thing Orlando has to offer. There’s a thriving hoop scene here as well. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

When you mention Orlando Florida, most people’s first thoughts go to Disney World, Universal Studios, orange groves, tropical weather with hurricanes and pop-up showers, nearby sandy beaches, great restaurants and shopping.

Sports wise, you think mostly football or spring training baseball. But in the past two and half decades, roundball has also become synonymous with central Florida. Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter are no longer the biggest attractions from the area.

NBA LIVE: 

The Association has been apart of the “City Beautiful” community since 1989. As mentioned in the ESPN 30 for 30 “This Magic Moment,” it was thought to be a terrible idea to place an expansion franchise in Orlando, and Miami as well, because football was king in the “Sunshine State.” Boy were they wrong. The NBA has flourished in central Florida, even through the lean years the Magic franchise had in the beginning and in recent seasons.

It only took three seasons for Magic basketball to receive the National and World spotlights. In February of 1992, former commissioner David Stern smartly brought the All-Star weekend to Orlando, as he did with the other expansion franchises (Miami Heat in 1990, Charlotte Hornets in 1991) in previous years. That weekend would ironically become a celebration of Magic, as in Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was playing in the game despite having retired before the season began due to finding out he had contracted the HIV virus.

In the spring of that same year the Magic won possibly the biggest draft lottery in league history, giving them the right to select the highly coveted Shaquille O’Neal with the first overall pick. The franchise and central Florida community would never be the same.

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq “Diesel” turned the small market city into more than a tourist destination. Die hard and casual sports fans all over world wanted to witness the 7 foot 1 dominating center with the millionwatt smile, exuberant charm and boyish personality. Orlando Magic jersey’s with the number 32 were worn from central Florida to the Far East of the globe.

D061173018.jpg

Penny with Shaq was the new Magic & Kareem. Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Shaq would lead the Magic to a .500 record (41-41), but they missed the playoffs by one game. It was a blessing in disguise as they won the 1993 draft lottery, a move that allowed them to draft the top prospect in that class, Michigan’s Chris Webber, who they immediately traded for the rights to Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway creating a dynamic duo with O’Neal that would only bring more wins and eye balls to the 407. To use Shaq’s words, they were “Shaq and Kobe before Shaq and Kobe.”

With Shaq and Penny at the forefront, the Magic became the NBA’s hot ticket and were showcased on national television a plenty. From 1993-1996, the Magic won 67.8% (167-79) of their games, two division titles, and the Eastern Conference title in 1995.

The Magic would fade away for a while when Shaq headed West to the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, and Penny was traded to the Phoenix Suns after growing frustrated with injuries, coaches and losing. The rest of that dynamic team was broken up via trades and retirement.

There was a revival of sorts in the early 2000’s when Tracy McGrady, a native of nearby by Auburndale in Polk County, joined perennial All-Star Grant Hill as free agent’s in the Magic’s Kingdom. While the franchise made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2001-2003), they would never be able to duplicate the success of the original Orlando dynamic duo due to Hill’s chronic and nearly fatal injuries.

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

In 2004, Orlando would once again win the draft lottery and select Dwight Howard, the number one high school prospect in the country, first overall, but they also traded away McGrady to the Houston Rockets in an attempt to remake the squad around Dwight.

Howard would grow into being the big man Magic fans lost when Shaq bolted for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Howard reignited the national and global spotlight that had been dimmed in the days post Shaq and Penny. D-12 became an All-NBA performer, a leading vote getter in the All-Star game, while also winning the 2008 Slam Dunk contest and earning three Defensive POY awards. His individual success also led to major team success as he, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis under Stan Van Gundy’s leadership won three Southeast division titles from 2007-2011, and the Eastern Conference title in 2009.

img_1710

The six-year old Amway Center is the centerpiece of Orlando. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The success even led to the building of the Amway Center (est. 2010), a state-of-the-art facility that is second to none in any league.

But history repeated itself as Howard, like Shaq, ended up with the Lakers after forcing his way out of the 407 via trade after a couple of disgruntled seasons.

So here the franchise is five years later, still in rebuilding mode like they were when Shaq left in ’96. But this time is different. The Magic are in the midst of the worse five-year period in team history.

BMOC (Big men on Campus):

Central Florida University, better known as UCF, is the main institution of higher learning in the area. In the last decade and a half they have produced several productive NFL players like wide receiver Brandon Marshall, cornerback Asante Samuel and quarterback Daunte Culpepper who were all All-Pro’s at some point in their careers. The UCF Knights hoops squad can’t say the same. It doesn’t have an extensive tradition as a team, but they’ve had a few notables come through the program.

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only 10 years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only ten years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

Marcus Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan, is the most recent big name that signed to play for the Knights (2009-2012), his older brother Jeffrey transferred from Illinois to play with him. Marcus made the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2009 and Second-Team All-Conference in 2011. If it weren’t for Marcus and the controversy surrounding him wearing Air Jordan’s instead of Adidas, who had a sponsorship deal with the school, they’d probably wouldn’t have the lucrative deal they now have with Nike after Adidas decided to drop the athletic program.

Four players from the university have played in the NBA.  Joey and Stephen Graham, Jermaine Taylor in the 2000s, Mark Jones and Stan Kimbrough in the early 1990s.

The biggest name in the program right now is new head coach Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins learned at the feet of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as an assistant and associate head coach for ten seasons after his 9-seasons playing in the Association.

Even though the University of Florida is one hour and forty-one minutes (110.7 miles) away in Gainesville, the Gators are the favored program in central Florida as it is home to a huge group of Gator Alumns. It’s also a major pipeline for top talent. Several local high school prep stars have made their way north on the Florida Turnpike to I-75 to play at the O’Connell Center for legendary coach Billy Donovan, like Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes.

Donovan successfully turned a dominant football school into a basketball powerhouse as well. From 1996-2015 he led them to two National Championships (2006,2007), four Final Four appearances (2000, 2006, 2007, 2014), eight Elite 8 appearances, eight Sweet 16 births, four SEC Tournament Championships (2005, 2006, 2007, 2014) and six SEC regular season Championships (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014).

Currently nine players are on NBA rosters that played for Donovan, including Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah who in the 2007 draft became the first trio from one school to be drafted in the first ten picks.

PREP GAME:

Nestled 23 miles west of Orlando in the shadows of downtown is the most prominent prep school program in America. Montverde Academy won three consecutive National Championships (2012-2015) and has produced three top two NBA draft picks in three of the last four NBA Drafts (Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell & Joel Embiid). Head Coach Kevin Boyle also coached St. Patrick’s High in New Jersey where he coached Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to name a few.

Equally as dominant, but on the state level in recent years, is Winter Park High School. The Wildcats have won three State titles since 2010. L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers led the school to back to back titles in 2010 & 2011 while winning Naismith Prep Player of the Year (2011). His younger brother Spencer was a key member of the team that won the title in 2014.

Dr. Phillips High Lady Panthers have won three FHSAA Championships in this decade (2011, 2012, 2013). The Boys’ team has produced several standouts. Most notably former NBA forward Damien Wilkins and guard Shane Larkin.

A couple of other schools in the area have had success producing top talent as well. Amare Stoudermire graduated from Cyprus Creek High in 2002 and jumped from there to the NBA where he won Rookie of the Year and was selected to six All-Star games in his 15-year career.

2004 McDonald’s All-American Darius Washington Junior graduated from Edgewater High and made the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 before having a successful career overseas. Another former Edgewater Eagle, Marquis Daniels played 10 seasons in the NBA, most notably with the Dallas Mavericks where he was selected to the 2004 All-NBA Rookie 2nd team.

Evans High School produced Darryl Dawkins and Chucky Atkins. Atkins played eleven seasons in the NBA for nine teams. Dawkins is one of the first players to go from high school to the NBA back in 1975. “Chocolate Thunder” was known for his colorful, playful attitude and ferocious dunks. He played in three NBA Finals.

Current Memphis Grizzles Vince Carter (Daytona Mainland High) and Chandler Parsons (Lake Howell) also call the Orlando area home.

On the AAU level, Orlando’s “Each 1 Teach 1″ squad has become one of the premier program’s in the country in recent years. Some of their well known alumns are Amare Stoudemire, Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, Austin Rivers, Brandon Knight, NCAA Champion Allan Grayson (Duke), Daniel Giddens (Ohio State, 2015-2016), Antonio Blakeney (LSU), and 7’5” Tacko Fall (UCF)

RUNS:

Orlando isn’t a big city, but it’s the sum of its parts in the neighboring towns and cities that provide top quality runs. it’s too hot to hoop on concrete, and with the tropical storm season’s pop-up showers, it’s hard to get a full game in without an interruption from Mother Nature. So most runs will likely be indoors.

Despite this amazing scene which exemplifies why Orlando is called the “City Beautiful”, it’s hard to play ball outside with the hot, humid temperatures and pop-up showers. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The hot spot within the city limits of Orlando is the Downtown Rec Center which was the practice facility for the Magic from 1989-1998. The court still host the Orlando Pro-Am in the summer complete with Magic logos and official NBA three point line. This is where many of you have seen the YouTube highlights of 41-year old Jason “White Chocolate” Williams still busting ankles and serving up dimes. Also centrally located in the city is Barnett Park/Gym. It fits your needs whether you want to go inside or outside.

The Oviedo Rec Center in East Orlando about 8 miles from the UCF’s campus also boast one of the most competitive men’s leagues in the area with rosters that have overseas pros and current college players, most of whom also get it in at open gyms.

North of Orlando in Sanford at the Boys and Girls club you’ll run into more current and former college players working on their games.

But if you must get some run outside and who could blame you, if you come to Florida looking to spend more time in the sun, you can stick around Sanford and hoop on one of the two courts at Fort Mellon Park. The lights stay on fairly late, so you can also cool off and gets some run when the sun goes down. In nearby Casselberry/Winter Park, where Chandler Parsons is from, you can head to Red Bug Lake Park. Here you’ll find several of the top high school players from the area. Also in the Baldwin Park Neighborhood in Winter Park, you can hit up Blue Jacket Park.

HOW WE DO:

Inside the six-year old Amway Center’s Orlando Basketball Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

Speed, speed, speed. Most of the ballers in the area are dual sport athletes, and that other sport is most likely football. So these cats like to push the tempo at every opportunity. You have former defensive backs playing the guard spots using their ball hawking instincts from their secondary days to lock you up on D and their top line speed to beat you to the cup when they’re on O. The wings are built like linebackers and tall wide receivers running the lane, and center spots are manned by lineman-sized cats who want to bang in the post like it’s fourth and one even if they’re not your traditional 6’7″-6’10” bigs.

Bring your water, Gatorade or whatever your drink of choice is to replenish, because hoop games turn into track meets in the blink of an eye.

The Orlando Magic are still the main attraction in town despite a lack of success on the court. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

A Successful Pro Bowl Increases Orlando’s Case as a Major Sports City

Orlando is ready to make its mark as a true major sports city. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The 67th NFL Pro Bowl takes place this Sunday in Orlando. It’s only the third time in 38 years it’s been held away from its mainstay location of Honolulu, Hawaii. Next season it will be in the “City Beautiful” as well, and there’s an option for 2019. What an opportunity for Orlando and Orange County leaders to show the sports world that we are a major league sports city. Not just a family-friendly tourist destination.

The NFL is the king of pro sports in America. Whatever they decide to do, you can bet the commissioners of the other major sports are taking notes. That’s why a very successful week of hosting the Pro Bowl and its events, official and unofficial — ahem, parties at nightclubs — will go a long way in enticing other major sporting events to make their way to central Florida.

Let me say this first, I know the Pro Bowl is a meaningless game that leaves much to be desired from hardcore football fans. Many of the top players have either withdrawn or are playing in the Super Bowl. Even with that said, the game has sold out the 65,000 capacity stadium including standing room only. Score one point for Florida Citrus Sports and their CEO Steve Hogan for making people care to spend their hard earned money for this game.

The great thing about moving the Pro Bowl to central Florida is it gives true football fans a chance to come out and get up close and personal with their favorite gridiron stars. That wasn’t the case when the game was held in Hawaii. It’s much easier and less expensive for NFL fans to get to Orlando for the game and week, then it is to get to Honolulu. Sure players would rather have that trip to the 50th state, but it’s not like central Florida weather and beaches is anything to sneeze at this time of the year with highs in the mid-70’s. But also in this day in age where the players are more worried about their brands, I’m looking specifically at you Antonio Brown, Mister Facebook Live, it would benefit them to be in the continental U.S. where their fan base can get to them. Score another point for the 407.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs want to be considered for future Super Bowls, NCAA National Football and Basketball Championships. We have the state-of-the-art facilities to host those events.

The 80-year old Camping World Stadium, better known and still affectionally called the Citrus Bowl, just underwent a $207 million dollar renovation. No it’s not the billion dollar playpens in Dallas, Minnesota and Atlanta, but It is already the hosts of three college football bowl games annually. Last season it was the site of Florida State’s spring game and a regular season matchup against Ole Miss. In the coming seasons, Louisville, Alabama, Florida and Miami will play in the Camping World kickoff game here. Just last November, the ACC moved its conference championship game from Charlotte to Orlando due to the controversial North Carolina House Bill 2 law. It has hosted Wrestlemania’s and it will host another this April. It can host major events.

In the past seven years, a the $480 million dollar Amway Center was built and hosted the 2012 NBA All-Star game and first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Orlando City Lions of the MLS opens its $155 million dollar soccer specific stadium this spring. 10 miles east of downtown on the campus of UCF, there’s the 10-year old 45,000+ capacity Bright House Stadium and 10,000+ seat CFE Arena.

City leaders have spent the money and made the efforts to make sure everything needed is in place for central Florida to prove it has more to offer than Disney World, Universal Orlando and other touristy attractions. Another point on the board for Orlando.

With the new soccer stadium, there can also be an opportunity to draw National team events.  Maphre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio is currently the adopted hometown for the Men’s team, but  Orlando could extend an invitation to become the home base for the U.S. Women’s National team who recently played in the Citrus Bowl in 2015. The city was successful when it was one of the host sites for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

All that can be decided in the future. But for the present it’s important that the city and its leaders maximize these rare opportunities. Orlando is ready to explode onto the national and world sports scene. And a great working relationship with the NFL will be the key that unlocks several other doors.

Grant Hill Was LeBron Before LeBron. Y’all Just Forgot!

Hill was the first player to with the perfect blend of Magic & Michael. Photo Courtesy: NBA

LeBron James is the best all-around player in the NBA. He has been for the past decade. I even have him on my All-Time NBA Mt. Rushmore. I have really enjoyed watching his game the last couple of seasons, especially in the last two NBA Playoffs and NBA Finals versus the Golden State Warriors.

In 2015, James averaged 35.8 points 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the six game NBA Finals series. In the 2016 Finals he went for 27.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game. LeBron led the Cavs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes played. That had NEVER been done in NBA History.

In the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, he moved into second place all-time in most playoff triple–doubles. He now has fifteen, Magic Johnson who’s in first place has twice as many. James just missed being the first player in over twelve years to average a triple-double for a series (Jason Kidd, 2003).

LBJ’s exploits have left fans, peers and past greats of the Association mesmerized. Year in and year out he is proving he can be both Michael and Magic as he has captured three NBA titles and brought the city of Cleveland it’s first pro championship in over a half century. Seeing LeBron at his peak has left me wondering what could’ve been, because nearly a decade before he entered the Association out of Akron Saint Vincent–Saint Mary High School (OH), Grant Hill was that guy. 23 in wine and gold is what Grant Hill should have been.

These days Grant Hill is remembered or known one of three ways. People above the age of thirty remember him as the standout All-American at Duke, that played in three Final Fours, won two National Titles, and started one of the greatest moments in NCAA Tournament history….

Till this day he’s still probably the least hated Duke player in their history because of the class and humility he exhibited amongst a group of guys who had the aura of snobby, pampered, silver spoon fed preppies who thought they were in titled. I’m pointing directly at you Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick.

They’ll also remember the guy who was a seven-time All-Star, five of which came in his first six seasons in the NBA. The only reason he wasn’t six for six is because the NBA didn’t have an All-Star game in 1999 due to the lockout. He was a five-time All-NBA selection, First-team All-Rookie (1995) and Co-Rookie of the Year in 1995.

Those around 15 years of age or so, especially the ones living in the Central Florida area, may remember him as the often injured former All-Star who was a shell of himself after he signed the big contract with the Orlando Magic in 2000. Some of those fans are still angry at him for what they deem as him “stealing money” from the organization. He missed 374 games out of a possible 574 in seven seasons with Orlando.

And, many now mostly know him as the guy who has successfully transitioned from retired professional athlete to broadcaster, staring on the reincarnation of the popular 1990’s hit NBA show “Inside Stuff”, while also doing in game analysis for NBA TV and NBA on TNT telecasts.

Grant was the first successful “Next MJ.” Photo Credit: NBA

But, what all three forget is that in the mid 90’s he was the next Michael Jordan on and off the court. And, unlike others who were labeled the next MJ or Baby Jordan, he took the mantle and was running smoothly with it while also setting a new standard. He was his “Airness” and “Magic” combined, looooooong before anybody knew who LeBron James was. And, he was one of the first to be tagged with the “Point Forward” label.

From 1994 to 2000 he was clearly the best small forward in the game, I mean that with no disrespect to six-time NBA Champion and one of the 50th Greatest Players of All-Time in Scottie Pippen. During his time in Detroit, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals in 39.1 minutes per game while leading a Pistons franchise, that was in rebuilding mode after the “Bad Boys” era when it drafted him with the third overall pick in the 1994 draft, to the playoffs four times.

He won a gold medal as a key member of Dream Team II at the 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta. During the 1996-1997 season he collected thirteen triple-doubles which was the most in the Association that season. He finished with twenty-nine in his career. More importantly, he never played fewer than seventy games, except for the lockout shortened season of 1998-99 when he played all fifty on the schedule. We’ll get to why that’s important later.

Even when his team wasn’t playing he was still on television endorsing products like Peyton Manning has been for the past five years or so. Hill had the Sprite commercials, was on every magazine cover from GQ to Ebony to Sports Illustrated. And, like MJ when he first came into the Association, he was carrying the hopes and dreams of an entire up and coming, but lesser known shoe company (FILA) and doing it well.

  

Grant was my guy. His crossover was sick enough to make Allen Iverson and Tim Hardaway “ooh and Ahh.” Then he could posterize the best shot blockers in a way that could make Vince Carter and LeBron James jump out their seat. Oh, and his mid range jumper, was as pure as Steph Curry’s three-point daggers.

Even though I wasn’t 6’8 225 like Grant, I’m 6’3″ 205I molded my game after him. Like I mentioned before, he was, and by all accounts still the classy, humble guy his former NFL Pro Bowl running back father Calvin and successful attorney and consultant mother Janet—who is was the college roommate of 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee, former U.S. Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton—raised him to be.

But, his career isn’t the fairytale that it looked as though it was headed to be. Instead of being named alongside Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe, LeBron as one of the top five or ten players to ever play, most will list him along with Bill Walton, Penny Hardaway, Brandon Roy and even guys from other sports like Gayle Sayers, Terrell Davis and Ken Griffey Junior who’s careers were cut short or injury plagued in their primes.

G-Hill played the 2000 NBA playoffs on a sprained ankle, that eventually got worse while trying to gut it out for his team. Reference Grant Hill next time you want your favorite or franchise player to suck it up and play through injuries, because some don’t realize or ignore the fact that his injuries almost cost him his life, forget his career.

After several surgeries to repair his chronic ankle issues, Grant contracted MRSA in 2003, an infection that could’ve led to his death had it not been quickly treated. After all that, at times he struggled to walk normal, who would’ve thought he’d ever play again?

But like the triumphant hero in your favorite movie, he returned and even made the All-Star team in 2005. He never returned to his pre-injury form, but he was still a significant contributor on playoffs teams with the Magic, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

He finished his 18-year career at age 40 with per game averages of 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists in 1,026 games. How about that for a guy who many thought was done at the age of 31? He didn’t win an NBA Championship, but the hero in this story had his triumphant return by just being able to play the game he loved again.

They say nice guys finished last, but I don’t think this will be one of those times. I’m confident in saying Hill will be in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, hopefully on the first ballot when he is eligible in 2018. I just hope his career gets the fanfare that it deserves. This is my attempt to make sure it does.

For The People of Central Florida, My Extended Family

Orlando will rise beyond the hate and live up to its nickname, The City Beautiful


“Hate will not define us. And hate will not defeat us, because we are one Orlando,” – Mayor Dyer.

I’m angry! I’m sad! I’m heartbroken and stunned. It’s taken me the last day and a half to get to this point where I could react in the only way I can, which is with my written words.

Orlando, Florida. The City Beautiful. The site of this weekends horrific tragedy, has a special place in my heart. It is my adopted hometown. And the place I hope to return and make my permanent home one day. 

I moved to central Florida in April 2007 for a better job, a chance at greater opportunities and to grow and see beyond what I saw in my birthplace of Columbus Ohio where I lived the first 26 years of my life. Central Floridians welcomed me and several of them selflessly helped me accomplish more than I had ever hoped for; from a chance to grow my career in the media, graduating from grad school and other personal achievements. In my four and a half years living there I found it and the people to be the most accepting and inclusive of anywhere I’d ever been. I assume it was the same for those who are apart of the LGBTQ community. I was able to grow from a 26 year old boy, who never lived on his own away from the nearby comforts of my family, to a 30 year old man who was better ready to handle the struggles life would throw me. 

But I don’t want to make this about me. I want this to be about the people of Orlando/central Florida. The friendly, lovely, kind and gracious people of “The City Beautiful”. The same people who will not allow this city to be defined by the deadliest terror attack since September 11th. This city and these great people, will rise up and band together like those in New York City did 15 years ago and remind the world what’s so great about their home. Our home. Central Floridians will remind everyone what’s so beautiful about the area and its people. This hate that has all of us shedding tears and at a great loss will only bond us together. We’ll all be stronger. United as the hashtag suggest. #OrlandoUnited. Hate won’t win. Love, peace and acceptance will. You watch and see. We are already seeing it in the way so many have come out in droves to donated blood for the wounded and other necessities, as well as lender their time to help and hug the victims families. And, there’s only going to be more acts of selflessness and kindness as time goes on.

I pray that the Lord brings peace, comfort and understanding to the families of the victims, the wounded and everyone affected. And that He also show us the way as a Country to keep senseless acts like this from ever happening again.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.” ~ John 14:1

“Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children.” ~ Ephesians 5:1 

#OrlandoUnited outside the Dr. Philips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando. Photo Courtesy: OrlandoSentinel.com