Arena that brought NBA to Orlando bids farewell
There are no NBA championship banners hanging from the rafters.
No lasting pre-game traditions, no spectacular gadgets or
Just Magic memories.
After 21 seasons as the only home the Orlando Magic have ever
known, Amway Arena’s run is almost over. Orlando hosts the
Philadelphia 76ers in the last regular-season game Wednesday night
in a place that housed two NBA finals and plenty of historic
Many not even for the home team.
The arena saw Ervin “Magic” Johnson return to win the 1992
All-Star Game’s Most Valuable Player award after his stunning
retirement and admission that he was HIV positive. The facility is
also where Phil Jackson won an unprecedented 10th title as coach,
and the site of Orlando point guard Scott Skiles’ record-setting 30
Formerly the TD Waterhouse Centre, the Orlando Arena and even
more briefly the arena in Orlando, it will always simply be known
as “The O-Rena” for many.
With the Magic preparing to move into the sparkling new Amway
Center next year, those who made the old arena’s most celebrated
moments recalled their fondest memories.
Pat Williams considers the arena’s groundbreaking one of the
most crucial elements to the franchise’s birth, and one of the
biggest thrills in his 42 years in the NBA.
The Magic co-founder and senior vice president remembers when
many thought the idea of an NBA team in Orlando was a joke. Miami
was more glamorous. Tampa was bigger, and other cities bidding
around the county were seemingly better markets.
But not everybody could provide an arena.
Williams helped energize Orlando residents. City officials took
to the idea, and the entire community rallied around the proposal.
The building, publicly funded at a cost of more than $100 million,
soon became reality.
The arena’s lasting legacy will likely be that it helped bring
the NBA to Orlando. Construction began in January 1987, three
months before the league approved the expansion franchise along
with Miami, Charlotte and Minnesota.
“The arena was the key to getting the team,” Williams said.
“There had to be a building. She was our saving grace.”
On Dec. 30, 1990, Skiles knew early on he would leave a
Then Orlando’s point guard, Skiles turned to teammate Jeff
Turner during a timeout in the first quarter against Denver and
made a prediction that drew laughs.
“I told Jeff, ‘I’m going to set a record tonight.’ I had like
eight assists or something right out of the gate. I said it
jokingly, but it ended up coming true,” said Skiles, now
He went on to break the record of 29 set in 1978 by Kevin Porter
of the New Jersey Nets. Skiles’ milestone still stands.
“No offense, but I’ll be glad the day it’s broken because I get
kind of tired of talking about it some times,” Skiles said. “It’s
one of those things where it all came together in one night.”
Perhaps no figure in the arena loomed larger in those early days
than Shaquille O’Neal.
After being drafted No. 1 overall by Orlando in 1992, he first
powered the Magic to prominence by leading them to the 1995 finals.
O’Neal helped create many of the first marquee highlights in his
four years in Orlando.
O’Neal’s fondest memory – “My banner” for the 1995 Eastern
Conference title – will move a few blocks south next year to the
Magic’s new arena.
Tracy McGrady had some of the most remarkable highlights at the
arena, but he had to think hard about his favorite.
Scoring an arena-record 62 points against Washington on March,
“Could have had 75 if I made my free throws,” he said.
Kicking the ball into the stands?
“That was fun,” he recalled, chuckling.
Getting his 10,000th point?
“I’ll always remember that,” McGrady said.
But none he would consider better than the 2002-03 season, when
he had a league-leading 32.1 points per game.
“What I really miss is that one year, every night, just the
‘M-V-P’ chants,” he said. “Just the feeling that I was getting
every night on the court, hearing the crowd chant ‘M-V-P.’ That was
a special season. I don’t know how I did it, but that stands out to
Some memories the Magic will be glad to leave behind.
Sure, Nick Anderson stealing the ball from Michael Jordan in the
1995 Eastern Conference semifinals propelled Orlando to its first
finals and still sticks in the minds of fans. But so does
Anderson’s four missed free throws against the Houston Rockets at
the end of Game 1 in that year’s finals, a collapse that started a
There was also Dwight Howard’s 40 points and 14 rebounds in the
Game 6 win that eliminated Cleveland in last season’s Eastern
Conference finals. But Howard also missed a pair of free throws at
the end of Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals,
when just one make would have given the Magic a four-point lead and
likely evened the series.
Derek Fisher then nailed a 3-pointer that forced overtime, the
Lakers took the game and eventually the title.
“The good and the bad,” Howard said, “will always stay with
One of the most touching moments in the arena’s history belongs
to a different Magic.
Magic Johnson came out of retirement after leading he was HIV
positive to play in the 1992 All-Star Game in Orlando. Johnson’s
showdowns with Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan stirred the crowd,
drawing tears from fans and winning MVP honors.
“It was in all ways magical,” NBA commissioner David Stern
recalled last year. “I smile every time I think about it.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson even considers it his favorite moment
at the arena. That might surprise some considering Jackson won his
record 10th title as a coach last year at the arena, passing
Celtics legend Red Auerbach.
Jackson said earlier this year when he walked in the arena that
his main thought was about the Magic “franchise and its history
and the All-Star Game they had here a number of years ago.”
The dull and dreary structure with a 17,519-seat capacity was
solid but no engineering marvel when it opened.
The concession stands have since become insufficient. The
restrooms are far too scarce, and most modern amenities – including
many moneymaking luxury suites – are missing.
That’s a big reason Orlando is heading to a new arena.
City officials are hearing redevelopment plans for the old
arena, and some have introduced ideas to turn the facility into a
performing arts center. However, it seems likely the structure will
eventually be sold and demolished.
The Magic have a chance to make one lasting memory.
Howard already has a commercial airing in Orlando where he
stands in the new arena talking about his dreams to raise his first
banner there – a title that could be won in the old building this
The Magic enter the playoffs with the Eastern Conference’s No. 2
seed, and Howard said there’s nothing he wants more than to close
down the building with a championship celebration.
“We’ve had a great ride here,” Howard said. “It’s not over