Magic will miss Jameer Nelson’s toughness, character

Paul Kennedy says Jameer Nelson's No. 14 should be one of the first numbers retired by the Magic.

David Manning/David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

NBA careers rarely end well.

Not to the level of satisfaction players, fans, and teams all long for in this basketball land of hopes and dreams.

At FOX Sports Florida, we have focused our cameras for three decades upon Orlando’s parquet court, televising the greats, near-greats and hope-to-be-greats.

Phenomenal theater. Electric atmosphere. Thrilling moments. Climatic plays. Mega stars. Larger than life personalities. Marquee names.

The glory of their age.

Yet all are mortal. Father time and human frailty make room for new faces. But before the free agency clock strikes midnight and next week’s summer league arrives — full of youthful kids eager to impress — let us pause and praise a man who has meant much to Central Florida.

Moving on

Jameer Nelson is leaving the Orlando Magic.

One of the greatest competitors this franchise has ever been fortunate to employ has been waived. The all-time assist leader in team history. As hard a nails as Smokin’ Joe Frazier, both from the streets of Philly.

We are talking a quarter century here of Magic hoops — 25 seasons — and you can count on two fingers the men of his ilk.

Nick Anderson is one. Jameer is the other. Both rugged, self-made pros from the projects of major cities who clawed their way to collegiate acclaim and then exceled for least a decade wearing a Magic uniform.

Anderson played in 692 games with Orlando, the most in franchise history. Nelson took to the court in 651, the second most.

For the record, here are the first two jerseys the team could — and should — retire. Jameer’s familiar 14 and Nick’s 25. If the franchise is seeking to educate its new young core in the qualities of dedication and perseverance, these are two remarkable role models.

A reaffirmation that service to this degree is held in the highest esteem. To put on that jersey that many times stands for something.

Ten years. Not Shaq, Penny, Dwight, Grant, T-Mac, nor any other player — whatever the circumstances — played their hearts out across 10 seasons in Orlando.

Jameer (and we all seemed to call him by his first name, rarely if ever by Nelson) knew it was coming and has for some time. By paying him $2 million now, the team saves cap room on the final year of his deal. He won’t leave poor, and he’ll play again this coming fall.

It’s not personal. It’s business.

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But Jameer always seemed to take this business of basketball very personally. He wanted to win. It had been the cornerstone of his life from infancy. He played with an edge and expected all around him to bring their best every night.

He was a fist of a point guard. Would have been a hell of a running back.

Across his tenure, Jameer rode waves. Honored when appointed a captain and served with pride. Curiously, the team elected to remove his captaincy last season. He never publicly said a word.

Jacque Vaughn, new to the Magic two years past, was wise to solicit Jameer’s insights, especially during the intensity of games. I’ve been trusted to stand near Magic team huddles through a coaching cavalcade that offered the likes of Matty Guokas, Brian Hill, Richie Adubato, Chuck Daly, Doc Rivers, Johnny Davis, Stan Van Gundy and Vaughn.

I have viewed the good, the bad, the temperamentally ugly. Heard the laughs, felt the pride, seen the cauldron of an outcome on the brink.

Jameer was the most involved — with teammates, with the staff — of any player I have witnessed. He will be on an NBA sideline soon. Playing, strategizing, mentoring. And Jameer will be a tremendous teacher, richly respected.

When he spoke, it was with a purpose.

To paraphrase a telling line from director Oliver Stone’s "Wall Street": Having it and losing it is worse than never having had it at all.

Nelson lived a reversal of on-court fortune during the high and low tides of his 10-year voyage.

Appearing in the NBA Finals, Jameer was a major part of contending teams for the majority of his O-town stay, even named to an All-Star squad. Yet, quite honestly, to endure the past two seasons — affording just 20 and 23 wins — was a wrenching experience. In the final analysis, Nelson did his best to play professionally and thrive against the odds.

Oh, he made known the fact he was far from content. Who was?

Well, it is over. Little Mr. Big Shot is bowing out.

The undersized kid from Chester, Pennsylvania, who led his high school to the 4A state title.

America’s National Player of the Year at St. Joe’s, when he was honored with both the Wooden Award and the Naismith Trophy in 2004.

Yes, that would be John Wooden — the greatest coach in sports history — and James Naismith -— inventor of the game of basketball.

Jameer and class were synonymous wherever he went.

We just regret it will no longer be here.

Paul Kennedy has served as an Orlando Magic broadcaster since the team’s inception in 1989.