Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with a disappointing first-round loss to Indiana.
There was one thing the Magic franchise could not get wrong this year. That might have been because the whole thing was out of their control.
For one weekend, everything went right for basketball fans in Orlando. It was an extravaganza unlike anything this city has seen in quite a long time. And it went off without a hitch.
The best way to describe it is to go day by day the whole weekend.
By the beginning of the week when the Magic left for the road, Amway Center was already beginning its transformation. An adidas billboard went up picturing Dwight Howard and welcoming the world to “his town” (all irony aside). The festival was coming and the excitement was building.
Friday was spent at Jam Session, the interactive basketball playground that was open to everyone and not as high-priced as the arena events. This was the way for the fans to have their fun and interact with the league. There was the Taco Bell Skills Challenge and the Larry O’Brien Trophy sitting next to a booth where you could call your own play-by-play of a Magic game. This was the place for fans of all ages to interact with the NBA.
And there was Center Court. A loud, glitzy, glorious practice court where the All-Star teams and rookie squads and D-Leaguers and tournament finalists all played on center stage. It was a mini arena inside the Orange County Convention Center and a good one.
The All-Star practices Saturday morning were nothing more than lazy walk throughs, ending with a festival of half-court heaves in a World Record attempt — yes, Carmelo Anthony hit three in a minute. It was only a preview of the zoo that was to come.
For the media, the real show was in a hotel ballroom where the All Stars and weekend participants would meet the media before heading off to the NBA’s day of service.
Watching it on TV does not do it justice. Dwight Howard, the weekend’s official host and the man of the hour with a mere three weeks before the trade deadline, had a hoard of 50 reporters surrounding his table just waiting for him to sit down and answer questions — both serious and inane. Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard emerged from the back room together. Anthony saw the crowd around Howard’s table and smiled, commenting that it was glad that was not him (because it was a year ago).
Howard was patient and did what he did all weekend, kept the focus on the weekend and tried to dance around questions about the trade deadline. That was the way you wanted it. This was a weekend of escape for everyone. A weekend to stop thinking about the bleak future and enjoy the now. Howard had a big blowout party in a hangar at the Orlando Executive Airport — from what I heard, the best of the weekend. Nothing says a good time like that.
The first major event was the Rookie Challenge. The contest was as boring as you would expect with tons of alley oops and fractured play. Kyrie Irving stole the show with his barrage of 3-pointers. Unfortunately, Uncle Drew had not been invented yet.
Saturday’s main event was the glitzy All-Star Saturday night. Ryan Anderson gave a good try in the 3-point shootout but failed to get out of the first round. Kevin Love was the surprising winner, delighting big men everywehre. The Slam Dunk Contest was either an awful disappointment or a decent showing from some unknown players.
Paul George’s glow-in-the-dark dunk was spectacular, but poorly executed (for those at home and on TV, it was difficult to see him at all). The jumping over things got tiresome — Jeremy Evans jumped over Kevin Hart, Derrick Williams jumped over Crunch, the Wolves’ mascot, on a motorcycle and Chase Budinger jumped over P. Diddy. There were some great ideas, they just did not go over as well.
The main event though was Sunday’s All-Star Game. Magic fans were disappointed that Dwight Howard faded to the background in the game, but Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant all put on a show. It was the high-scoring affair you expect.
More than that, it was a thrilling game with LeBron James and the East nearly making a rather sizeable comeback and James and Wade nearly playing the heros at the end.
Overall, it was an absolutely fun weekend. I enjoyed my time covering it — you can read all the articles I posted from All-Star Weekend over at Crossover Chronicles — and, as Dwight Howard repeatedly said throughout the weekend, the city “was on fire” and buzzing with excitement.
It really makes you look forward to the next time Orlando hosts the annual extravaganza. In a season that was bitterly disappointing and frustrating to watch, the All-Star Weekend was much needed to actually celebrate basketball for a change.