Tracking the Magic man 

Tracking the inner workings of a sports franchise is similar to the old art of Kremlin watching. Tracking a sports franchise within a large family corporation is even more so. Like Kremlin watching, the basic rules are, nothing is as it seems, and never accept the official version of events. Given these rules we should dismiss the story that Magic Coach Brian Hill was a victim of his player's desires. GM John Gabriel's deft performance at a news conference last week needs further examination. Local media generally took the bait and poured out its venom on the players. If it was Gabriel's intent to place the blame squarely on them, and I suspect it was, he got what he wanted. But if one looks at Gabriel's rise and current power within the Magic organization, it is difficult to believe that he would be pushed around by mere players. Gabriel was the subject of a Sentinel profile that depicted a dazzling rise from gofer working in the Philadelphia 76ers for Pat Williams and Matt Goukas, to his position here as vice president of basketball operations. In a major showdown over the trade of Penny Hardaway, Gabriel overrode Goukas which led to Goukas' departure. Hill was elevated by Gabriel fo become head coach. Then Gabriel eclipsed Williams and pushed him into the shadows. Gabriel succeeded in impressing the DeVos family when they bought the Magic, and thus cemented his position within the organization. That is not the story of someone who would be pushed around by the players, nor of someone who would be intimidated by a leak to NBC. When locker-room sniffer Peter Vecsey reported on Feb. 16 that Hill was out, a simple denial from Gabriel would have at least temporarily quieted the waters. No one has yet to explain why that was not done. Instead, gabriel equivocated. Hill was left twisting in the wind for two days, until the rope was cut. Could it be that what we have here is one more chapter in the story of Gabriel's rise to total control. David Aldredge, the NBA correspondent for ESPN, suggested that while Hill was still twisting that Gabriel and Hill were at odds over personnel, with Gabriel looking to move players that Hill wanted to keep. This past Sunday, in an interview, Gabriel made considerable use of the personal possessive pronouns when talking about Magic. The events of the previous week leave few doubters as to the appropriateness of this word choice. There will be even fewer within the Magic organization who will dare to challenge that view. By letting Hill twist in the wind for 36 hours, Gabriel clearly made his point.

More by Richard C. Crepeau


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