Nick Anderson’s heart has never left Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. — The sight of Nick Anderson making his way through throngs of well-wishers during Orlando Magic home games is not an uncommon one.

But it will be different Friday night. That’s when Anderson, the first player ever drafted by the Magic and the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and second in points scored, will be officially honored as part of the season-long 25th anniversary celebration.

For Anderson, who will turn 46 in January, every day he can spend in Orlando and remain connected with the Magic is an honor and a reason to celebrate.

“I love this community. I love this organization. I love everything about it. They’ve been so good to me,” he said.

As synonymous as he was with the franchise as a player and now as a community ambassador, it’s easy to forget he did not finish his career in a Magic uniform.
Four years after helping them reach the 1995 NBA Finals, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings during an offseason of sweeping changes which included Penny Hardaway and Horace Grant being sent packing.

Anderson started 72 games for the Kings as they reached the playoffs in 2000. A year later, he was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies and wound up playing in only 15 games for them. He was then included in a draft-day trade in 2002 to the Cleveland Cavaliers which included the rights to Matt Barnes, the forward who later became part of the Magic’s march to the Finals in 2009.

Anderson never suited up for the Cavs.

“My heart never left Orlando,” he said. “I don’t even think I played the same basketball in Sacramento and Memphis because this is where I always wanted to be. I left a whole lot of me here in Orlando when I was in Sacramento.”

Two of the franchise’s signature moments have Anderson’s stamp all over them. The first was when the native of Chicago stole the ball from Bulls superstar Michael Jordan during the closing seconds of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1995. Three years later, Anderson again came through with a game on the line, nailing a 3-point field goal which enabled the Magic to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in Shaquille O’Neal’s much-hyped return to Orlando as a visiting player.

Over the course of 10 seasons, Anderson played in 692 regular-season games for the Magic. He once said his ambition was to become to them what Brad Davis became to the Dallas Mavericks. While Davis, like Anderson, was never chosen for an All-Star Game, he came to an expansion franchise and wound up retiring more than a decade later without ever playing for anyone else.

“Brad Davis was a guy who stayed his whole career with the Dallas Mavericks,” Anderson said. “Reggie Miller was a guy who played his whole career with the Indiana Pacers. And that’s not something that happens often in this league.”

The Magic announced less than a week ago plans to create a Hall of Fame recognizing players and team officials. Later that same evening, Tracy McGrady was honored between the first and second quarters of the Magic’s home opener.

Now it will be Anderson’s turn to bask in the cheers from those in attendance while the Magic, currently riding a three-game winning streak, take on the Boston Celtics.

“A lot of my friends, to this day, call me ‘Orlando’s first-born,'” he said.

As to whether he should become the first player inducted into the Magic’s Hall of Fame, Anderson is thankful simply to be under consideration.

“I’ll leave that to this organization,” he said. “And if the fans have the opportunity to take part in it, I’ll let them judge that. If I’m first, great. If not, it’s OK too.”

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla

or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.