Orlando Magic using voting drive as start for deeper involvement in community

Orlando Magic center Mohamed Bamba is eager to vote for the first time in a presidential election this year. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic center Mohamed Bamba is eager to vote for the first time in a presidential election this year. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic opened the Amway Center up for National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday. They hope raising voter awareness is a start for the community.

Mohamed Bamba has never had the opportunity to vote before. This upcoming election will be his first presidential election.

The 22-year-old center is hardly alone in needing some time to understand this sort of political and community awakening.

The act of voting is simple, but the process of voting can sometimes be complex. The most basic right Americans have requires work to perform. Voting is something that can become easy to become cynical about or something that can easily slip through the cracks in everyone’s busy lives.

Then again, ask the experts and they will tell you democracy is work. It is action. As Benjamin Franklin purportedly said, “We have a republic if you can keep it.”

And so voting becomes a tool the public has to check their leaders and impact their communities.

This has been a message NBA players have shared throughout their time since the reason restarted. But now it is nearing the fourth quarter. Voter registration deadlines are coming up in early October. The first presidential debate is next Tuesday. And early voting will begin in early October, with the Amway Center among the NBA facilities that will be open.

And so the Orlando Magic are doing their part to get the word out. On Tuesday, they held an event in the Disney Atrium of the Amway Center as part of National Voter Registration Day to help register voters and fill out Census forms.

"“My message is simple to get out there and vote,” Mohamed Bamba said Tuesday. “Oftentimes, people ask me who are you voting for, for one person or another, I tell them the message isn’t who to vote for, but to get out and vote.”"

Bamba said he was just turning 18 during the last presidential election and he was not able to get himself organized in time to register. The process itself can be complicated depending on which state you are in.

So this will be his first time voting. He said registering in Florida was fairly easy — you can do so if you live in Orange County here if you missed Tuesday’s National Voter Registration Day event at the Amway Center:

That is not a unique experience among NBA players, however.

The shocking thing as the NBA tried to raise awareness for social justice issues was how few NBA players were registered to vote. As the league had its meeting following the players’ sit-in over the death of George Floyd, it was reported only about 20-percent of players voted in the 2016 election.

The one thing that seemed to come directly out of that meeting is that players would all register to vote while they were still inside the campus. Coach Steve Clifford said voter registration among NBA players leaguewide has risen “sky high.”

"“I think that when you look at voting, voting is a complicated thing and a lot of people don’t vote because they don’t have a way to register or they don’t understand what they have to do to vote,” Clifford said Tuesday. “The more things we can do like this to make it easier for even a few people to register is a big thing.”"

This has become an important starting issue for players around the league to engage with their communities. Without voting, there can be no meaningful change.

Every team in the league at least tried to open their arenas where they could for early voting. The Amway Center will be open beginning October 19 through November 1 as an early voting center in Orange County.

NBA players have been focused on racial equality and justice among the many issues on the ballot. Clifford said it is important to have these conversations, but the only way to make change to make society better is to make laws and policy.

And voting is the way everyone can play a role to make positive change.

Making an impact?

The Orlando Magic were directly involved with one of the more dramatic and powerful moments inside the NBA campus when the Milwaukee Bucks abruptly decided to sit out Game 5 of their playoff series. Once the Magic realized they were not playing out of protest for the shooting of George Floyd, they joined and the rest of the league followed.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The meetings that occurred behind the scenes inside the campus were heated as players debated whether to continue with the season. They hoped their return to play would bring awareness to issues of racial injustice in the country and create real change.

"“I noticed there was a lot of frustration and wasn’t necessarily a lot of answers to solutions,” Bamba said Tuesday. “I realize that decisions aren’t great when they are made out of frustration. When you have time to debrief and really go over things, I think you tend to end up with a better solution. This is one of many solutions. I’m not saying this is the best solution. but I feel like this is one of the bigger ones.”"

Bamba said it was uncertain what impact their resumption of the season had. The Floyd shooting rocked a lot of players out of complacency it seemed. But he said awareness is at an all-time high now. And it is about making solutions work.

The work for the Magic continued outside of the bubble as they sought their own solutions to help.

Voting is the most basic and first one.

For the Magic, voting will serve as the first step in a larger platform to improve the community. Clifford said Michael Carter-Williams continues to do work to help with police accountability in Central Florida and the team and several players want to be more active in education reform in the area and other community endeavors.

Some of that has been slowed because of the pandemic, but Clifford said the team is formulating a plan to get more involved when things return closer to normal.

Models in the community

Still, the Orlando Magic play an important role in getting the word out as a visible member of the community.

While there have been frustrating setbacks, athletes’ speaking out and the NBA’s messaging in the campus has helped make an impact.

"“I think it has played a part in keeping the conversation going, making awareness stronger across the country,” Clifford said Tuesday. “I think if you look at all the sporting events — the WNBA, what the NFL players are doing — people are doing it in different ways. But it’s important because to get the kind of positive, sustainable changes that hopefully everybody wants, it’s not going to happen overnight.“It starts with getting the right people in charge, but not just nationally it is statewide and locally. There is nothing more important than educating yourself about who the candidates are, what they stand for and what they will do if we vote them into office.”"

Steve Clifford has continued to help too.

He participated in a day of service along with Florida Rights Restoration Coalition founder Desmond Meade last week. He remains a member of the city’s social justice task force. He said the team has also worked with Miles Mulrain and Let Your Voice Be Heard to further endeavors in the community.


Athletes and teams, including the Magic, are able to amplify voices of activists and experts and that is why their involvement in these causes is so important.

But it all goes back to voting in the end.

That simple act that sustains democracy and is the one way every person can impact their community. The basic act of engagement can have a ripple effect on the rest of the community.

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The Magic and players around the league are hoping their presence can have an impact in letting people know how important this act is and they hope they can help make it a little bit easier and rewarding to join the process.