The night was perfect. One last night at the Amway Arena (well, for the regular season).
There was Nick Anderson walking through the tunnel one more time. There was Shaquille O’Neal throwing down one final dunk. There was Darrell Armstrong diving on the floor. There was Dennis Scott hitting another three and Tracy McGrady making an incredible fallaway shot. There was Scott Skiles dishing out another assist and Bo Outlaw flying in for another rebound.
Only it was not those players wearing the traditional blue and white. It was someone else wearing those jerseys.
It was Mickael Pietrus running through the tunnel — budding afro in tow. That was Dwight Howard rising up for a rim-rattling dunk. It was Matt Barnes diving on the floor for every loose ball and JJ Redick and Rashard Lewis hitting every 3-pointer in sight. It was Vince Carter hitting the ridiculous fall away jumper and Jameer Nelson finding the open man for the easy basket and Marcin Gortat swooping in for that hustle board.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. But this time, things might be different.
Amway Arena may have sung its swan song for the regular season, but much more awaits the arena in the coming months. But Wednesday night was for the memories the O-Rena left us. And it reminded us of everything that happened in Amway Arena and everything that can happen in the Amway Center during the Magic’s 125-111 win over the 76ers on Wednesday.
Orlando dusted off this game early, racing out to a 37-20 lead after one quarter. After the 76ers made their expected run in the second quarter to close the gape, the Magic re-established complete control in the third quarter and held a 20-point lead for most of the second half.
Dwight Howard was dominant as usual. Vince Carter looked like he could turn in a McGrady or Penny-like performance if he cared enough about the game. Jameer Nelson knifed his way in and out of the defense and led the team in scoring. The bench got its work in and Marcin Gortat notched a double-double.
The game itself mattered little. The Lakers would lose to the Clippers in their final game, gift-wrapping the second best record in the league for the Magic.
What mattered was reliving the moments that made Amway Arena home for 21 years. The arena lacked a lot of the charm that the remaining old stadiums had. It lacked the amenities of the newer arenas or the space to make room for the renovations that could keep it running.
But, to me, all its imperfections made it home.
In what other arena would the shot clock buzzer go off for five minutes one game earlier this decade? In what other arena would Michael Jordan be shown human?
It was not the big memories — the Anderson steal on Jordan or McGrady’s 62-point game. It was all the little memories that made Amway Arena so special.
It was the intimacy of the lower bowl. The “community” and clutter of the one and only concourse. It was McGrady punting the ball into the upper deck the night he scored his 10,000th point. It was Nick Anderson always chewing on his jersey as he walked out of the tunnel at halftime.
Amway Arena always felt like home. And that is what I will always remember. I do not need to run down 21 years of random and glorious memories from Magic history. Everyone has their own memories of Orlando Arena. Memories that will start anew next year, hopefully with the raising of a championship banner in the Amway Center.