Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
On March 25, Amway Arena was imploded by the City of Orlando, putting an end to the building’s 23 years of existence.
One of the first things I thought of when I found out Amway Arena was torn down was something head coach Stan Van Gundy said after the Orlando Magic beat the Philadelphia 76ers on April 15, 2010 when the building hosted its final regular season game. Van Gundy said:
“It’s a building. It doesn’t have feelings, it’s a building. Sorry guys, I’m not going to shed a tear when a building comes down. Unless it’s my house.”
I always thought that quote from Van Gundy was funny. He shared the same sentiment, too, on the day Amway Arena was imploded.
It’s true that buildings don’t have feelings. It’s an inanimate object. Yet it’s also true that people care about inanimate objects. And in this case, people cared about Amway Arena (better known locally as the “O-rena”).
Although Amway Arena was one of the smallest arenas in the league during its time, lacking the necessary amenities needed in a modern NBA arena to create the revenue streams required for a franchise to survive long-term, it had a certain charm. In many ways, Amway Arena’s size was its biggest weakness but also its greatest strength. It fostered an intimate environment to watch a game, with one lower and upper bowl section stacked on top of each other to create a lot of crowd noise.
That intimacy is the charm I’m talking about.
And that charm created a lot of unforgettable moments for me as a Magic fan, especially one in particular.
“It feels good to get in the second round.”
Tracy McGrady uttered those famous words after the Magic won Game 4 to go up 3-1 in their series against the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the 2003 NBA Playoffs. Unfortunately for McGrady, he was counting his chickens before they hatched. Orlando would go on to lose three straight games against the Pistons and lose the series.
Which meant that the Magic blew their chance at making history, which was to become the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed after the NBA expanded the first round from a five-game series to a seven-game series that season (side note: isn’t that McGrady’s luck? The year the league decides to expand the first round is the year he played Detroit and was up 3-1).
Nevertheless, I’ll never forget that series. Not so much because of McGrady’s quote and the end result for Orlando, but because I was able to be a part of that unforgettable playoff experience as a fan. I was there to witness Game 4 in person. And for me, that game best defined everything that made Amway Arena a unique place to watch the Magic play.
My O-rena memory
When Magic fans think back fondly at the O-rena, they’ll talk about “The Steal” as being the most iconic moment not only in the arena’s history but in the franchise’s history and rightfully so. For Orlando, It’s a memory that won’t soon be forgotten. However, I wasn’t there at the O-rena to experience the game myself.
No, my favorite O-rena memory, after going through all the Magic games I attended as a fan in my memory bank, remains Game 4 of the 2003 NBA Playoffs between Orlando and the Pistons in the first round.
A few reasons.
Although I didn’t quite know it at the time, heading into the Magic’s first round series against Detroit, McGrady had just put together one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. He put up numbers that rivaled Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. And I was there in person to watch McGrady at the apex of his abilities.
Again, I didn’t know that McGrady was having a historically great season. All I knew was that he became my favorite Magic player to watch after Shaquille O’Neal left as a free agent in 1996 and Penny Hardaway was traded in 1999. The way McGrady rocked a leg sleeve was cool. The way he played was smooth. The best part of it all was that I, along with the city of Orlando, embraced him. After Shaq and Penny left, and with Grant Hill hurt, McGrady was believed to be the superstar that was going to lead Orlando back to the promised land of relevance after years of irrelevance and first-round flameouts.
We all believed in McGrady.
So with McGrady at the helm and with the Magic up 2-1 in their series against the Pistons (the first time Orlando was leading in a playoff series since 1996), no words can accurately describe the atmosphere at Amway Arena — then known as the TD Waterhouse Centre — on April 27, 2003. All I can say is that it was truly electric. You could tell that the Magic fanbase was letting out years of frustration and galvanizing behind this particular team in one felt swoop.
I sat in the upper bowl that night and it was loud, especially when McGrady was announced last by public address announcer Paul Porter during player introductions. Because Amway Arena was small, all the crowd noise built up and let loose like a tsunami. It was a tidal wave of noise and as I got swept up by it, I got goosebumps all over my body.
That’s when I said, “We’re back.”
It felt like the good old days of the mid-90s when Amway Arena was rocking. When it was one of the loudest arenas in the NBA. And McGrady acted as the conduit to make it all possible.
Farewell, old friend
Although the Magic weren’t truly “back” and those words proved to be inaccurate after the fact, they were dead-on that night. Orlando won Game 4 and even though McGrady was more ordinary than transcendent during the game, it didn’t matter. I left Amway Arena with the feeling that I witnessed something special and was part of a memorable experience. The atmosphere in the building was a big reason why I felt that way.
That’s what I’ll miss most about Amway Arena. During the playoffs, it transformed into one of the most intimidating arenas to play in the NBA. Its intimacy. Its charm. It would all come out in the open with no filter.
Ask any Magic fan what it was like to be at Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals in person. Or ask me what it was like to be at Game 4 in the first round of the 2003 NBA Playoffs. We’ll probably say the same thing.
There was nothing else like it.