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The Orlando Magic have been in existence for 21 years and in each of those years, David Steele has handled the play-by-play duties and called the action on the floor — first on radio for nine years, then on television for 12 years and counting. As such, Steele’s breadth of knowledge with the Magic is impeccable. And Steele has always been one of the very best at his craft, so it should have came as no surprise that he was named the NSSA Florida Sportscaster of the Year in April. The award was the first of Steele’s career. A long overdue but well-deserved honor, without a doubt.
Did I mention that Steele is a reader of Magic Basketball?
Steele is a man of the people and was more than willing to provide his opinion on what went wrong for the Magic in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, as well as recollect some of his fondest memories at Amway Arena, and more.
In your opinion, what happened to the Orlando Magic against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Well first, I think you have to talk about what Boston did. We caught a team, just like we caught Atlanta at a time when we were playing extremely well … I just felt like Boston was on a major roll and played outstanding basketball. Rondo was at the very top of his game, Pierce was unstoppable, and I give them a lot of credit. Perkins has always been a tough matchup for Dwight [Howard], just because he’s so big and strong. I think he does as good of a job defensively against Dwight as anybody defensively in the league, so you got that matchup. You had Pierce on a roll. You had Rondo on a roll. Allen was good. I just felt we played a very hot team.
Do you think Dwight Howard is getting close to being unstoppable on offense?
Yeah, Dwight has gotten better every year. No doubt. He’s added a little more to his game. Still doesn’t have the face-up jumper but I’m of the opinion that if he never is able to get a consistent face-up jumper, I still think that he’s just a powerful, quick, and talented player around the basket, that it’s not going to prevent him from being an outstanding offensive player. But yeah, he’s gotten better every year. I still think he’s got some improvements. Even aside from the obvious face-up jumper, just getting a better free-throw would be a huge thing for Dwight. If he would just be able to increase his free-throw percentage by 10 percentage points and get up around 70 percent, if he could get in that range, I think it would make a big difference with how teams decide to defend him.
Do you think it’s realistic to expect Howard to make a dramatic improvement with his free-throw shooting at this stage of his career?
I think he could. I think it’s been done before. There are a couple examples. There are not that many, but there are a couple. That’s why I think it’s not impossible for him to do it. And in addition to that, he does some things right at the free-throw line. As much as you love Bo Outlaw, mechanically his free-throw just was not going to work. Dwight has a lot of things he does well fundamentally, so I think it could be a leap that he could make because it’s not like you have to break the whole thing down.
Was there anything that surprised you in the Eastern Conference Finals?
The only thing that really surprised me was Game 1. The entire way the team performed, or did not perform, in Game 1. That was just a big shock. I really felt like the team playing at home against the Celtics in the Conference Finals would play, if not extremely well … at least be out there with tremendous energy. I just think they got caught off-guard by the way Boston jumped on them. That was the biggest surprise. Just the fact that they didn’t come out and play. I know they can.
What’s your fondest memory of Amway Arena?
Oh yeah, I have so many memories. It’s hard to just single out one or two. The first game back in 1989. The very first games in there were so exciting. I still recall the energy and just the atmosphere that was surrounding the franchise and the team when they started playing. The first game against Detroit always stands out in my mind as an exciting time, an exciting night. Even though it was a pre-season game, it was just such a big deal to have an NBA team in Central Florida playing Chuck Daly, and Isaiah Thomas, and Lambier, Dumars, and all those guys. The defending NBA champions. That was a great night.
Knocking off Indiana and moving on to the NBA Finals at home in 1995. That’s a memorable night as well. Those were heady times back then in the mid-’90s, just like they are right now. There was so much enthusiasm for the team, because it was such a great team on the floor and beating Indiana to make the NBA Finals. That was a thrill as well. And then last year, just because it’s more recent doesn’t diminish its importance but getting back to the NBA Finals, knocking out LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. That was special, too. There’s a lot of them, but those are probably right there at the top of the list.
Could you describe ‘The Steal’ and what that was like watching it in person? Do you recall that being the loudest moment ever at the Amway Arena?
Loud moments are difficult for me to discern because we’re wearing headphones and I got my own voice and some crowd noise pumped in, so it’s hard for me to determine what’s loud and what’s not. But I will say that if you had to point out one single best moment or greatest moment at the Amway Arena, that would be what it is. That was a big-time play in a game that it looked like it was going to get away.
Michael Jordan had come back from playing baseball and it was Game 1 against the Bulls. You didn’t know if you were going to be able to overcome Jordan and the Bulls again, but that play turned that series around. No doubt. The Magic rolled over the Bulls after that one play. That’s probably the biggest and best moment in my recollection of Amway history.
Do you think that Nick Anderson will have his jersey retired?
Well, it depends. If you’re going to start retiring jerseys, if you make that decision, then Nick [Anderson] is right there. He has to be at the head of the conversation. There’s also some talk about Shaq and Penny, and did they play long enough with the Magic. They left under circumstances that were touchy at the time and there’s still some bad feelings about both those guys. That makes it difficult to consider them. So Nick would have to be at the top of the list.
I think it should be reserved, personally, for very exclusive situations. I think championships should be involved. That’s part of the problem, though, Eddy. There’s no criteria. As an organization, I guess you have to talk about a criteria and then go from there, so everybody’s opinion is based on whatever their criteria should be.
In my opinion, it would be reserved for championships. An Eastern Conference championship, I think that would probably satisfy. Which we got two of those, one in 1995 and one in 2009. Players that led teams to championships and put banners up. I think you want someone that’s stayed a long time and was a part of the community. To retire his jersey, that would be another criteria that I would look for. Character would be a part of it. In those terms, Nick played on the ’95 team, he’s got the tenure, and he works as a community ambassador so yeah, I think it should be something that should be considered.
Have you heard the Magic consider retiring Anderson’s jersey?
No, it’s not discussed much at all. And he never made an All-Star team. You could argue that either way. He was a good player. He played a long time. He wasn’t one of the best two players on that team that won the Eastern Conference Finals. Shaq and Penny were, so you could argue that either way. Maybe another part of the criteria should be at least an All-Star. I don’t know. It’s such a subjective thing. I could see how you could argue Nick. It’s a fair argument.
What did you think of Penny Hardaway’s recent comments in the Orlando Sentinel, in which he said that he would like to speak with the Magic organization and, more or less, fix his reputation with the fans?
Yeah, I was glad to see Penny make those comments and reach out. I would like to see that happen. I think it needs to happen. I think he was a great player. He was one of the top five players in the NBA for several years. Like I said a moment ago, he and Shaq led the team to the NBA Finals, to an Eastern Conference championship. He’s a good guy. I just think at some point the organization is going to bring him in and honor him as I think he deserves.
Do you think the same thing will happen with Shaquille O’Neal?
I do. I think time will take care of those things. I think it should happen. I think it will happen at some point. I don’t know how many years down the road it will be. Obviously Shaq would have retired from the game and then time will need to pass, but you just can’t deny that those were great times in Magic history. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to embrace that at some point.
Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow.