These are strange times with sports shut down and everyone staying in to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Orlando Magic replays provide some normalcy.
Even when you know what is coming, the final result is thrilling nonetheless.
The Orlando Magic and FOX Sports Florida are filling the time the rest of this regular season with replays of the team’s best games from the season — you can also watch games on NBA League Pass, which is free for the time being. They started Thursday with the Orlando Magic’s opening night win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, ironically on the day the Magic were supposed to host the Cavaliers for the final time.
It was the middle of the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers had cut into the Magic’s lead. The drama of the game was gone — Orlando would win easily. But the anticipation was there nonetheless. The moment that would change the game and set the tone for much of the rest of the season.
Was this the play? Is this when that magic moment happens? No, it comes later. This is not the right time.
Then it happened.
Nikola Vucevic collected the rebound and handed the ball to Markelle Fultz. The defense was already retreating when Markelle Fultz started to move up the court. He saw the lane open up and began to accelerate. The Cavaliers were too late to react.
Fultz drove right through the heart of the defense and rose up for a massive one-handed jam. The crowd already saw it happening in real-time and rose as he jumped to the sky for the highlight play of opening night.
Even on replay, the moment was thrilling. A quick burst of potential and promise showing through. And, because this was a game, the moment passed. The next play occurred but it was impossible not to join the live crowd and continue buzzing.
Watching that game five months later had a different feeling. This time we were watching it out of nostalgia.
We knew this was a literal launching point for Fultz and his stellar first full season in Orlando. We knew the Magic would continue to have the same struggles offensively but were clearly better than many of the teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
It was a beat in a long game. But one that still felt comfortable and exciting.
There was the reminder of just how special Jonathan Isaac could be — it has been three months since fans could see him play — and just all the promise that laid in front of the Magic.
More importantly, the game served as a welcome distraction. The game in October had the excitement and hope of opening night. In March, the game served as a reminder we can have fun in scary times.
Each day, it feels like there is more bad news and more confirmed diagnoses of NBA players.
It started with the announcement Rudy Gobert, and then his Utah Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell, had a confirmed positive test. Then it has spread through (although not necessarily directly) to Christian Wood of the Detroit Pistons then to four players on the Brooklyn Nets, including Kevin Durant, to at least two members of the Los Angeles Lakers, someone on the staff for the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers and then with Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics.
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By all accounts, they are all not exhibiting severe symptoms. They will recover. And while there is a fair question about how NBA teams have gotten tests while the general public is struggling to get access, players can be “super spreaders” because of how much they travel around the country.
Halting the NBA season was a necessity. It should be clear by how pervasive the disease has become within the league.
The whole sports world came to a stop when the NBA officially shut its doors. The league is trying to do its part to slow the spread. They will close practice and training facilities on Friday across the league. Players will be on their own, likely at home, to stay ready for whenever the season opens up again.
Government and health officials are promoting social distancing for everyone. Trying to choke off the spread of the disease by keeping it from spreading from person to person. Bringing back large gatherings like a NBA game will be the last thing that happens.
But this is all tough for a sports fan. Playing NBA 2K can only do so much. And while there are a ton of options for watching TV, it is not the same as watching basketball and the sport everyone loves. Let alone the team we all love.
Sports are meant to serve as a form of entertainment at the end of the day. For many, it is an escape from a sometimes dark world. It is something to look forward to at the end of the day — a simple drama with low stakes but all the passion as if it did. That is a part of the beauty of sports and what draws us to it.
Sports are a way to distract from the problems from the real world. And that distraction is gone at a time when a lot of people need it most.
The news right now can be scary — nothing we as a society cannot overcome, but for most of us dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude is new.
The sports leagues made the right choice halting their leagues. But there is an emptiness from them doing so. We all could use a little distraction. The uncertainty and unpredictability of live sports create drama that thrills even those who do not regularly watch sports.
There will be no replacing live sports and the feeling of not knowing the outcome. There are no games to play right now.
But having the Magic back on TV provided some comfort. It was good to hear David Steele and Jeff Turner and Dante Marchitelli calling a game again. It brought you back into the rhythm of the season and made everything feel normal again.
That has value in these odd times. Just to create a little feeling of normalcy.
There will be more Magic games to rewatch until the scheduled end of the season on April 15. There will be great memories to relive and enjoy. Having a Magic to watch roughly every other day will bring back the same rhythm of the season. The same anticipation and desire to watch the sport so many of us love again on a regular basis.
The anticipation for these moments will mimic the anticipation for the end of a game. And that will have to do for now.
Watching Magic basketball will provide some sense of normalcy as we all do our best to stay in and fight the spread of the coronavirus.
That is all sports can do right now for us. And we are thankful for it.
For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.