LeBron James trashes Orlando, Orlando Magic still proving Orlando is more

LeBron James' history is tied to Orlando forever. But he has never experienced the real city, making his trashing of the city hurt more. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
LeBron James' history is tied to Orlando forever. But he has never experienced the real city, making his trashing of the city hurt more. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

LeBron James’ history with Orlando is not exactly a good one for him.

Yes, he won his fourth NBA championship in Central Florida during the historic bubble run for the Los Angeles Lakers. There were long parties into the night at the bar affectionately called the Four Bridges at the Gran Destino resort at Disney.

For Orlando Magic fans, James’ legacy in Orlando is wrapped up in his six-game defeat in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. Sunday was the 12-year anniversary of Dwight Howard’s 40-point, 14-rebound masterpiece (perhaps the best game of his entire career) that sent LeBron James packing early in a 103-90 victory.

Fans constantly remind everyone of this fact anytime they complain about never getting a LeBron James-Kobe Bryant NBA Finals or they see James’ Game 2 shot.

Orlando, just as it sort of was for Michael Jordan, remains a thorn in the side of his resume.

Residents of the city take pride in saying they are one of the few franchises that defeated both James and Jordan in a playoff series. At least some of that is born from a “little brother” syndrome for a young city that is carving its identity.

Orlando residents want the world to know the city is more than just Disney and a city growing into its own. It is a vibrant, diverse city with a growing culture and identity as a new generation puts its roots down.

Orlando is growing as a city and carving its own identity. But LeBron James’ words trashing the city for his time in the bubble hurt the city’s efforts to grow beyond its theme parks.

So Orlando residents were rightfully a bit taken aback when James said he would never consider signing in Orlando during his show The Barbershop from Uninterrupted as he spoke with Bad Bunny about his training for WrestleMania this April.

These were fighting words.

Look, there is a bit of humor and hyperbole here. It is actually James’ business manager Maverick Carter who is taken aback at the idea of living in Orlando. James merely takes it to the next step and is probably right to want to keep his distance from The City Beautiful after spending 90-plus days in the Bubble.

What the NBA asked the Los Angeles Lakers and everyone who went into the bubble at Disney to finish the 2020 season was a lot more than any business should ask their employees to do. The players union agreed to it, but neither they nor the league probably understood the strain that would occur.

But, yeah, this insult hit a little deeper, digging into that little brother complex as the city tries to carve its own identity separate from the attractions that made the city.

Orlando’s residents certainly made themselves heard:


No one is going to question that Orlando is where it is because of Disney.

When Walt Disney started amassing land to build the Walt Disney World Resort, it changed Central Florida’s history forever. Disney is still the leading employer and leading landowner in the region. Their logo is on the Magic’s jerseys and they are a major sponsor for cultural events throughout the city.

It is indeed hard to escape Disney.

But as Mayor Buddy Dyer said in his response to the video clip, there is a second half to Orlando that visitors rarely experience. That is the place that Portland Trail Blazers guard, and Edgewater High School alum and Altamonte Springs native, Anfernee Simons is hinting at in his response.

Orlando is changing.

The Magic are a part of this change. The arrival of a professional sports franchise put Orlando on the map as a city — accelerated with Shaquille O’Neal’s arrival and the 1995 Finals run. This was how Orlando was going to get out of Disney’s shadow.

As pilloried as civic contributions to events centers and arenas are, it is hard to argue the investment in the Amway Center and the Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts has not been worth it as a cultural touchstone for the downtown area.

The Frontyard Festivals have been an important space for the community to come together during the pandemic.

Not to mention the performing arts center became a central place for public grief and mourning in the aftermath of the Pulse shootings. The city needed that public space and it helped the city find its resolve to push forward.

That would not exist without the Magic leading the charge for the Amway Center, another important public gathering place.

No place right now likely exemplifies Orlando’s independent spirit and passion right now than the fandom for Orlando City. The Lions are sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference after making the playoffs for the first time last year. It is the one thing that truly feels like it belongs to Orlando — no one comes to MLS with another fandom. It is the place where the city really lets go in a wave of civic pride.

The Magic have experienced that too. The 2019 Playoff run saw the Amway Center come alive for the first time since Dwight Howard left. Watching the entire city come together to celebrate the Game 1 victory was also a refreshing wave of civic pride.

But the city is not merely defined by its sports. It has a growing arts culture — exemplified by the recently completed Fringe Festival or the various art festivals throughout the area. It is growing in other industries, with increased investment in technological and biomedical research in the area.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

UCF is the second-largest university by enrollment in the country and its alumni base stays home and contributes to Central Florida — the growing noise when UCF competed for the national championship was also an outgrowth of this little brother complex and a fan base shouting for their team to get recognized in one voice.

This area is a whole lot more than Disney and a whole lot more than the tourism industry — although it remains a central part of the area’s economy and identity.

That is why James and his associates brushing aside Orlando hits hard.

Bad Bunny, for his part, seemed merely to go along with the joke. He was here to do a job and train for his performance at WrestleMania. The WWE has made Orlando its home base for its performance center and developmental promotion, NXT.

When people actually get the chance to live in Orlando, they tend to stay — just ask the Central Florida chapter of the NBA Retired Players Association.

The league is likely to come back to Downtown Orlando for an All-Star Game in the near future — likely after the long-awaited entertainment complex gets built. This is a place people want to be.

That is only shown in how Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne passed Miami/Fort Lauderdale for 17th in the Nielsen DMA rankings.

But these perceptions of what Orlando is and Orlando is not still persist. It is hard to change opinions of a place after they are set in stone. Someone has to come to a place and start spreading the gospel of it. And James’ voice carries weight.

There was at least some thought that the players going to the bubble and living in Central Florida would be a free agent marketing tool for the team. Everyone believes Orlando’s offer of great Florida weather, Florida’s tax code and a family-friendly city will attract players in free agency.

None of that seems quite true yet. Orlando has not signed a max free agent since Rashard Lewis in 2007. And even that signing, people thought the Magic bid against themselves, overpaying for a misused small forward.

The bottom line is Orlando offers a good life, but it is not a destination city. Free agents will only consider the city if the team is winning and as a primary attractor. Despite Central Florida being a bigger television market, Miami and South Florida still have the reputation of being the better place.

James is not helping Orlando’s reputation here. Especially by conflating his spending time at Disney in the bubble with actually being in Orlando and Central Florida.

This city is carving its own identity and the Magic will play a part in that as they begin to rebuild again.

Next. Orlando Magic, Miami Heat bet wrong on continuity. dark

Hopefully, someone will notice and give the city the fresh look it deserves.