Orlando Magic need to honor history and retire jerseys

The Orlando Magic are still working to add players to their team Hall of Fame. But it is time to put the very best some place more visible. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are still working to add players to their team Hall of Fame. But it is time to put the very best some place more visible. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) /

A team’s history is a sacred thing.

It is what tells the story of the franchise and informs people of what the organization is about. It binds generations of fans together. It is something fans hold onto in the bad times. And ultimately helps them get excited when the good times come back again.

The Orlando Magic have a relatively short history as they enter their 33rd season. But it is one worth celebrating.

Yet, the Magic’s history remains hidden. It is not a presence within the Amway Center.

And as new generations of fans file into the building or new fans get made, finding out where to learn about the franchise’s history and how the franchise has integrated its past is still a bit tricky.

Magic CEO Alex Martins said the team has discussed criteria for the ultimate honor a franchise can give — retiring a jersey. But no one has reached that level yet.

This has always created some debate among Magic fans. In one respect too, this is an odd way to relate to franchise greats who have come to expect jersey retirement ceremonies from other teams they have played for.

The Magic are not the only team in the league without an officially retired jersey, but increasingly it is getting harder to argue that jersey retirement should not be something they should do. Otherwise, some key players in the team’s history could get forgotten — or tucked into the corner of the Magic’s fan experience inside Amway Center in the form of their Hall of Fame.

The Orlando Magic have resisted retiring jerseys as they try to match their own internal criteria. But it is getting harder to argue against the honor as a way to make their history more permanent.

J.J. Redick’s retirement is what got me thinking about this more.

Redick retired after 15 seasons in the NBA, six of them with the Magic. He finished in the top-20 in scoring and is near the top of every 3-point statistic in Magic history. On top of that, he is a fan favorite player.

Redick’s No. 7 should not be hanging in the rafters of the Amway Center. But as the Magic continue to wind their way through their history and honor players in their Hall of Fame, Redick seemed like a perfect candidate to reach that level at least for his popularity, longevity and contribution to title-contending teams.

When I put that question to a poll though, the fan base seemed pretty divided:

What felt like something of a short jumper for him to get in for that honor actually could turn into quite the debate when his turn comes.

We are a long way away from considering Redick for the Hall of Fame. So that debate can get delayed a little while.

The Magic are still playing catch up with their important figures and figuring out who gets into the Hall of Fame is not the debate so much as what order they should go in — Bo Outlaw, Dennis Scott, Scott Skiles, Jeff Turner (as a contributor as much as a player), Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson are all shoo-ins that should go in with some indeterminate order.

The list of people who *should* be in the Magic Hall of Fame is easy to figure out among retired players. And there are a few active players who will surely get in — Nikola Vucevic will absolutely get the honor when he retires and Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier will at least have arguments for inclusion.

The Hall of Fame should be a lower threshold. The place where the Magic honor players who made major contributions to the franchise and have special meaning to them or dot their all-time record boks.

This is the place where fan-favorite players like Redick should get honored. And that is an important honor to have available to meaningful contributors who were not the centerpieces of the franchise.

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But leaving it at that seems to make this honor a bigger thing than perhaps it should be. If this is the pinnacle of honors the Magic hand out to former players as a franchise, then it makes sense to make this a more exclusive club.

That does not seem like the right way to use this however. It clearly includes players who are not likely to have their jerseys retired under typical criteria. But players like Darrell Armstrong absolutely should be honored in some special way, nonetheless.

If the Magic were going to retire jerseys, there is nothing more currently retired players can do to gain that honor. That means whenever Orlando does retire jerseys, a whole host of amazing players are seemingly ineligible or waiting for someone else to get the honor first.

Perhaps the Magic are waiting for the right player to bestow the honor upon first. Perhaps they believe winning a championship is the first requirement to honoring their history.

This feels like an unnecessarily high bar. And anyway, the perfect player to honor with the first retired jersey is still with the organization — the original Magic man in Nick Anderson. Everyone seems to agree that Anderson has a special argument for jersey retirement.

Honoring a team’s history is an important thing though. And the Magic have not been fantastic at doing this in its own history.

Some of this is, of course, the strained relationships and departures the Magic have had with many of their legendary players. Those strained relationships bled into fan relations. But even Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway were cheered when they returned for the 25th anniversary season and then again when they got placed in the Magic Hall of Fame.

Both O’Neal’s No. 32 and Hardaway’s No. 1 should be in the rafters for all to see.

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And that is what jersey retirement is really about. It is about visibility. A reminder for all those in the arena bowl watching a game the team’s history matters. That the current generation of players are standing on the shoulders of giants. A signal to all former players that this is a place that celebrates and appreciates its history.

Currently, fans wanting to learn about the team’s history either have to rely on the 30 for 30 documentary, This Magic Moment (which probably should be always on sale at the team shop), or they have to seek out the Magic Hall of Fame within the Amway Center or walk through the Magic fan experience section of the arena.

There is a lot of history to study and this part of the arena does a good job highlighting the moments that mattered in the team’s past.

But the team should also honor the individuals who made the franchise what it is. And creating a high bar for the greatest honor only makes it more difficult to honor the important players in some way too.

The Magic Hall of Fame should not be a low bar. But it should be an inclusive group of the greatest players in team history. But that necessitates a higher tier so that the true legends get their due and their place within the franchise’s hierarchy.

Right now, not having that excludes players from inclusion in the team’s larger story. And the honor it can bestow on players who contributed so much to the team without rising to the level of all-time great.

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It is long past time for the Magic to honor their legends in a more formal and traditional way. It is time to start retiring jerseys.