Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos dies at 92

Orlando Magic team owners Rich and Helen DeVos enjoy the Rising Stars Challenge at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, February 24, 2012. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic team owners Rich and Helen DeVos enjoy the Rising Stars Challenge at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, February 24, 2012. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images) /

Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos has died at 92 years old, the team announced Thursday. He owned the Magic for virtually its entire existence.

Orlando Magic owner and Amway co-founder Rich DeVos has died at the age of 92, the Magic and Amway announced Thursday. They say he died peacefully at his home in Michigan surrounded by family. The cause of death is listed as a complication from an infection.

DeVos has owned the Magic for virtually its entire 30-year existence. He bought the team from a local group, giving the team a much firmer financial backing in September 1991, before the team’s third season. He promised then to be a steward for the team and a pillar in the community, even though he and his family was based in Michigan.

Quickly, that became true.

DeVos and the Magic have been a strong member of the Orlando community throughout his ownership, establishing the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation to benefit youth programs and setting community service as a key pillar for the franchise and the organization.

In the time DeVos owned the Magic, Orlando went from a small tourist-driven town to a place people want to live. The Magic were very much a part of that growth both with their contributions to the community and its presence legitimizing Orlando as a major city.

"“Mr. DeVos’ boundless generosity, inspirational leadership and infectious enthusiasm will always be remembered,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said in a press release. “Simply, he was the team’s No. 1 cheerleader and the best owner that a Magic fan could ever want for their team. When the DeVos Family purchased the Magic, his vision was that the team and organization would serve as a platform to improve the Central Florida community. That legacy will certainly live on, both in the Orlando Magic’s community efforts and philanthropic contributions, as well as in the way we strive to play the game with passion, a strong work ethic and integrity, while also bringing people together from all walks of life.”"

It helped too the Magic were a fairly successful team throughout its history. Even without winning a championship in the 30 years of its existence, the Magic have won five division titles, appeared in four Eastern Conference Finals and appeared in the NBA Finals twice.

In the process, they had some of the most iconic players and teams in NBA history from Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway to Tracy McGrady to Dwight Howard. The only regret in Magic history is that the team did not get over the hump and win a title before this moment. The current rebuild is a low point in franchise history.

DeVos is not free of criticism as an owner.

He certainly made a misstep in failing to offer Shaquille O’Neal an above-market contract in the summer of 1996, giving one of the 10 best players in NBA history an excuse to leave Orlando just before he hit his prime. Some of that was a naivete about the coming explosion in player salaries and failing to get ahead of that market for a player clearly worth that much on the market.

DeVos was always willing to spend. But bad luck hurt the team in critical moments.

He hired some ingenious management that expanded the Magic’s business interests and worked the salary cap to their advantage — trading to clear cap room to sign Horace Grant helped push the 1995 Magic into the NBA Finals just as clearing cap room for the Heart and Hustle team created the potential to bring in three all-NBA players to the team in one summer.

He also made some poor hiring decisions that set the team back on several occasions. The Magic, despite some extreme Lottery luck, were never able to get over the hump. And the team’s stars all seemed to leave under frustrating circumstances for the team and the player.

There is also plenty to say about DeVos’ political beliefs and their impact on the state of Florida and his family’s opposition to LGBTQ rights. In an increasingly diverse community, some of those positions made it hard to support him. Despite his generosity in some areas, he held some untenable views in others. DeVos’ political beliefs against the LGBTQ community were cited in Donald Sterling’s lawsuit against the NBA after the league stripped him of his ownership of the LA Clippers following the release of racially charged comments.

Despite that, the Magic were instrumental in administering and supporting the One Pulse Foundation. Although that relationship with the LGBTQ community is still pretty tenuous (if it exists at all), and understandably so.

All this will be a part of his legacy. When it comes to his ownership of the Magic, they do not define that time.

The best way to define DeVos’ legacy as an owner is his heart. He truly lived the life of a fan and loved the team.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

In the early 2000s, amid a nasty political fight to replace the aging TD Waterhouse Centre (nee Orlando Arena), DeVos put the team up for sale. Having just had a heart transplant, it was unclear if he would continue to be able to manage the team. And business for the Magic was bad with attendance creeping down and the team middling through the Eastern Conference with just Tracy McGrady as an attraction.

The team was close to moving at that time and it seemed like the Orlando dream was over.

DeVos though said he had a change of heart and took the team off the market, willing to work to make things work in the Orlando market.

That proved to be a shrewd move with the city’s coming growth and the eventual drafting of Dwight Howard. The team would secure its new arena and be a catalyst for development and growth in Downtown Orlando.

Rich DeVos had taken a step back from the day-to-day operations of the team in recent years. His son Dan DeVos had taken over as chairman of RDV Sports in 2011. He has served as the Magic’s representative on the Board of Governors and helped operate the long-term vision of the team.

Rich DeVos’ death does not immediately signal the team will be up for sale. The DeVos family has had a plan in place to succeed Rich DeVos and the team’s operations likely are not going to be disrupted.

Rich DeVos has been an icon for the Magic and the franchise. He has been a constant presence for virtually the franchise’s entire existence.

Through DeVos’ leadership, the Magic became an institution in the city and made a positive impact. The team helped the city grow by giving it some legitimacy as a major sports town and helped the city grow through its charitable work to help lift the community up.

If DeVos’ ultimate legacy is to root the Magic deep in the community as ambassadors to the larger world and as strong servants of the Orlando community, then his ownership was successful even if the team never won a title.

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It is probably safe to say he helped steward that rooting for Orlando.