“Being here feels like I’m out of prison. This is the right place, the right time, the right team.”― Shaquille O’Neal
During the bubble, Orlando was the center of the basketball universe for the first time since Dwight Howard packed up his cotton candy machine and headed for Los Angeles, farting for the entirety of the 5 hours and 30 minutes of the flight. It had practically nothing to do with the actual basketball team in Orlando, who lost their first-round series in five games to the Bucks, and their most promising player (Jonathan Isaac) to an ACL tear.
This is the 32nd season for the Orlando Magic. They’ve been largely irrelevant despite employing four no-doubt Hall of Famers and making the Finals twice, which over half the teams in the league couldn’t do in that span. Some of it is their location in central Florida, a place that’s more of a Disney fiefdom than an actual American city. Despite having many peers who wore Orlando Magic Starter jackets in the early part of Shaquille O’Neal’s career, I have met exactly one Magic fan in my life. Why is this? It’s because the DeVos family has been there for the last 30 years.
Richard DeVos bought the Magic in 1991, and just like his children, success fell into the lap of the Magic totally unrelated to anything they did. Thanks to Orlando being was the second-worst team in the league – that’s right, due to how incompetent this billionaire was at getting his team to win – they got the first pick in the draft and took Shaquille O’Neal, a center from Lousinana State University, presently working as an analyst for the Turner organization. Next year, after the team went 41-41, they got the first pick again (I assume David Stern secretly stamped Mickey Mouse ears on Orlando’s lone ping pong ball) and traded top pick Chris Webber for Penny Hardaway. Shaq and Penny beat No. 45 Michael Jordan in 1995 and then lost to Hakeem in the Finals.
A year later, the team lowballed Shaq and he went to the Lakers. Somehow, the DeVos family got outbid even though the NBA had no maximum salary and the Magic could have paid him any amount they wanted. The owner was worth three billion, and he offered Shaq $54 million for four years. The Lakers were constrained by the cap, and Orlando could have paid anything to keep him. Instead, Shaq left for nothing. In 2000 they signed Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, then pressured Hill into coming back too fast from a broken ankle and he ruined his career. Until he escaped Orlando for the Steve Nash Suns and their veteran-friendly training staff (e.g., unlimited HGH).
The DeVos family made their money from Amway, a multi-level marketing scheme disguised as an actual business. Amway primarily makes money off of its distributors, which means they’re ripping off their ostensible employees. That’s how the DeVos family are billionaires. Betsy DeVos was the Secretary of Education, where she tried to destroy public schools and teachers’ unions, an eerie parallel to Amway. Her brother Erik Prince founded Blackwater, a private mercenary army whose employees were just pardoned by Trump after murdering 17 Iraqis. Dick DeVos spent $42 million to get blown out running for governor of Michigan. These are not people who build things or succeed due to anything but scamming people or inheriting money from scammers.
They had prime Tracy McGrady and they sucked. They briefly succeeded after again lucking into a generational center and handing the keys to Stan Van Gundy, only to once again totally fuck up their Hall of Fame center’s contract extension. Hard to look at what this team does and see any real long-term strategy or competence.
Steve Clifford is a good coach, and his teams generally have good defense. The rest of the team doesn’t really fit together, or score points. After missing the playoffs every year since Howard left, they seem content to tread water at the eight seed while stirring their weird roster around a little bit. Markelle Fultz still has potential, though one of his top comps on 538 is Elfrid Payton. Mo Bamba’s top comp is Darko Milicic, a player for whom Orlando once traded a first-round pick. Jonathan Isaac will miss the year with a torn ACL, which is good because we won’t have to read about his political beliefs or his teammates refusing to watch him preach. That ACL tear is definitely God smiting the DeVos family, not that they care. God should put some more muscle into directly punishing the cadre of billionaires who are destroying the planet, instead of sacrificing their only begotten large adult sons.
The team isn’t going anywhere, and neither are any of the players. Aaron Gordon is always in trade rumors and despite having acted in a hit movie, he’s best known for getting really sad about losing dunk contests. Terrence Ross is signed for three more years, and you know what? Good for him. I don’t really know why Orlando needed him for four years but I’m not hating, he’s given us such wonderful dunks over the years. Nikola Vucevic is a one-time All-Star who parlayed his four-point performance into a four-year deal. Last year the Magic hard-capped themselves to sign Al-Farouq Aminu, an African art enthusiast with the same skill set as five other long-armed forwards already on their roster. They’ll probably re-sign Evan Fournier next summer because the DeVos family is happy to wallow in this sludge of a basketball team they’ve created.
It just seems so unambitious to be this content with a 39-win team. It’s one step up from the early-2000s Warriors, always in 11th place yet somehow always capped out. But even in these last two playoff years, the Magic have been making the postseason by default. All it takes is the Bulls, Hawks, or Wizards to start sitting on their own balls slightly less and the Magic slide back to the lottery and irrelevancy, while Team DeVos continues shoveling money at mediocrity. Anti-abortion activists, climate change deniers, racist charter schools, armed lockdown protesters in Michigan, Donald Trump – the DeVos family funds all these unpopular, semi-competent people all the time, despite their incoherent plans. Why should their basketball team be any different?