ORLANDO, Fla. — Pat Williams was as eloquent, humorous and polished as ever. Nick Anderson was as sincere, heartfelt and emotional as ever.
Two men with not much in common on the surface than having been with the Orlando Magic before the team even played its first game were named Wednesday as the inaugural members of the franchise’s Hall of Fame. Williams, who led the drive to bring an NBA expansion franchise to Orlando, and Anderson, the first player drafted by the Magic in 1989 and their all-time leader in games played, will be honored between the first and second quarters of the Magic’s game Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets.
At a ceremony where both men were present, Anderson spoke for close to five minutes before being overcome with emotion and fought without success to hold back tears.
”I just don’t know what to say,” he said.
Replied Williams, who now serves as the Magic’s senior vice president: ”Nick, my friend, you’ve said it all.”
The Magic announced plans before the regular-season home opener in early November to create a Hall of Fame on the fifth level of the Amway Center honoring players and team officials for their contributions to the franchise’s history. Williams and Anderson were among the first people honored during the season in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Magic, and they were selected for their latest award by what team officials called an internal committee.
”This isn’t something I envisioned, not one day in my life,” said Anderson, who played with the Magic for 10 seasons and has served as a community ambassador since 2006. ”I just wanted to play basketball. Basketball was my life. But to stand here today and to say, ‘Hey, Nick Anderson a Hall of Famer, being inducted in the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame’ … This is truly a blessing.”
Williams helped co-found the Magic after spending the previous 12 years as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and seeing them win an NBA title in 1983. Now 73 years old, he was also recently inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
”These are overwhelming honors, really,” he said. ”So to be part of this first class, it means a lot. It means an awful lot. And it will mean more down the road when these (14) grandkids of mine are grown and come visiting here to the arena and see that first trophy or plaque there. That’s a legacy.”
The Magic reached the NBA Finals in their sixth year of existence and Anderson’s sixth year with them. By then, he had morphed from a small forward with limited range into a shooting guard who helped complement the inside presence of Shaquille O’Neal.
”You took a chance on a young man from Chicago,” Anderson said to Williams, who was the Magic’s general manager until April 1996. ”You jump-started not only my career but my life. And I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.”
Getting started in 1986 on persuading the NBA to grant Orlando an expansion franchise was anything but a slam-dunk to Williams.
”When you think back, Orlando in 1986 was not a very big market,” he said. ”There was no skyline downtown. There was no Universal Studios, no Swan and Dolphin (hotels), not much of a convention center. And the airport? Oh, my goodness, it was embarrassing to bring anybody into the airport to try to sell this. Fortunately, when the owners came to visit, they came in private planes.
”We didn’t have a whole lot to sell when you look back to those days in the mid-’80s. But we kept saying to the league, ‘You’ve got to look at Orlando 10 years from now and 20 years from now and 25 years from now.’ Fortunately, they saw that vision.”
The team has been owned since September 1991 by Rich DeVos, who turned 88 last month, and his family. Although age and health concerns have limited the number of appearances DeVos has made at home games in recent seasons, his four children have shown no indication of ceding control of the franchise.
”We’re so fortunate to have an ownership group that is solid and stable,” Williams said. ”They are not in it for any other reason than to win and to be good citizens.”