Nick Anderson remembers the first time he put a Magic uniform on very well.
It was a preseason game against the Pistons. The Orlando Arena was sold out and it sounded and felt like a regular season game. It sounded and felt like a Playoff game.
The celebration after the victory for the expansion Magic was like winning a championship. You can imagine the gridlock coming down Robinson and Amelia and Orange as Orlando experienced NBA basketball for the first time as their own.
“It showed people that there’s something here,” Anderson said. “I will never forget it, winning that first exhibition game against the Detroit Pistons, which was the world champions at the time, our fans thought we had won the NBA championship. It was good, the support that was given. The fans have not wavered. ”
It was quite the introduction for the Magic and quite the introduction for the NBA to Orlando.
Nick Anderson was there for it. He was there for all of it these past 25 years.
“It was wonderful to be a part of kicking off something that’s long-standing,” Anderson said.
“I never expected anything like this coming down from Chicago, being drafted from the University of Illinois. I just came to play basketball. Look at what these fans and this organization, they gave me so much more. It’s an honor. It’s a privilege. I am thankful and grateful for this opportunity. I couldn’t say more. It could have been someone else. But I was chosen.”
Anderson was the Magic’s original Draft pick in 1989, taken with the 11th pick. He became a favorite son, becoming the team’s all-time leading scorer and its longest tenured player, playing for the Magic for its first decade of existence. He averaged 15.4 points per game and shooting 45.4 percent from the floor.
He is the author of perhaps the greatest moment in Magic history, when he snuck behind Michael Jordan and stole the ball, feeding Anfernee Hardaway for a game-saving fast break in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Anderson arrived in Orlando a 21-year-old rookie and has never left. His family has grown up in Orlando (his son is around 25 and Anderson said he feels like he is part of the organization too). Except for three years after he was traded from Orlando (two seasons in Sacramento and one in Vancouver) and a few years lost in the wilderness living in Atlanta, he has been a constant fixture in Orlando and a fan favorite.
it is not just mere reverence for the team’s first favorite. Anderson endeared himself to the community as really the Magic’s first player. The first guy Orlando fans could truly call their own.
“I never really looked at it that way [being the original player],” Anderson said. “I looked at it as I was drafted by an expansion team. I was given an opportunity which I’m thankful and grateful for. But you go back, I am the very first. I probably wans’t the first pick, but a lot of my friends around here call me the first born.”
It was a humongous risk putting a team in Orlando in the first place.
In 1989, Orlando was a very different place. The city had not grown as much as it has now. The Magic did not even have a proper practice gym. Orlando was working at the Rec Center downtown near the Orlando Arena and Anderson said they would have to chase off gym members in the afternoon so they could practice.
However, since then, Anderson said he has seen the flower bloom in Orlando.
The Orlando basketball experiment was never a sure one. This was football country. Twenty-five years later, though, the experiment has clearly been a success.
“I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like [fan support],” Anderson said. “But I knew that a new NBA franchise was coming to Central Florida. And I knew that there were basketball fans here that migrated from other states to come here to live. I knew it was a football town and probably moreso it is. People love their football here.
“But they embraced it. They took it in. It’s great. They’ve given all they can give. The support, you can’t deny the support the fans have given from Day One. I look from the day it started to today, you look at those fans that were sitting here early for 25 years. They weathered whatever storm.”
Anderson never wavered in feeling Orlando and the Magic were home. He is still beloved by everyone in Amway Center and serves as the team’s community ambassador.
When you bring up Anderson’s name to any Magic fan, warm memories immediately flood in. There is a reason that so many feel his jersey should be retired despite his never making an All-Star team.
Anderson has been with teh Magic from the start to now. And there is no other player that better represents the organization. Here is hoping he never leaves.