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Via Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:
One of the league’s most popular players, [Dwight] Howard has been the driving force behind the [Orlando] Magic‘s comeback as a franchise and their 68-consecutive sell-out streak (including playoffs). He’s helped them to an NBA Finals appearance two years ago and to back-to-back 59-win seasons.
A two-time MVP, James sent South Florida into a frenzy with his free-agent announcement. People honked horns and cheered in bars, and the Heat quickly sold all their season tickets for the coming season.
Never has pro basketball looked so enticing and intriguing — even when Shaq played for both the Heat and Magic.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in the NBA or anywhere else in sports, really,” Magic vice president Pat Williams, a 40-year veteran of the NBA. “It’s unprecedented. It’s taken basketball in the state to its highest level.”
With the Miami Heat re-signing Dwyane Wade and bringing LeBron James and Chris Bosh aboard, and the Orlando Magic opening the Amway Center in October, we might be entering a golden age of NBA basketball in the state of Florida with two high-profile teams. The Magic have been an elite team in the league the past two years, and now the Heat will join them in the same rank. This has been mentioned before, but Orlando and Miami have never competed for titles at the same time … until now. A rivalry that has been brewing below the surface, for far too long, is ready to explode.
It’s fun to think about, actually.
Magic fans are understandably concerned about the ramifications of James, Wade, and Bosh uniting under one banner and what it means on the court. But off the floor, the Heat’s re-emergence to the national spotlight, not only in the NBA but in sports in general, will only serve to boost the Magic’s profile. Orlando’s true rival is Miami, and the storylines are oozing with sub-plots that will capture people’s attention — the “Three Kings” vs. Superman, teacher (Stan Van Gundy) vs. apprentice (Erik Spoelstra) with their mentor looming in the background (Pat Riley), and more. And the star power will be absurd, with Dwight Howard headlining the Magic’s side with the help of Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter. The Heat, of course, have their trio. That’s three of the best players in the league right now, coupled with numerous All-Stars.
Basketball will be played on a micro level, yes, but it’ll be neat to see Orlando and Miami battle for division titles, conference championships, and the Larry O’Brien Trophy on a macro level. Great teams in the NBA are remembered in the history books, but the same can be said about intense rivalries. After their prologue in the 1997 NBA Playoffs, the Magic and the Heat might potentially write a book to an amazing rivalry that is long overdue.
Savor it, because it should be a joy to watch.