What happened to the Orlando Magic?

Most sports stories are about something special. This one isn’t

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Cover art by Peterson J. Guerrier
Cover art by Peterson J. Guerrier

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"The arena they play in now is a big cavernous – what? – half-a-billion-dollar facility that houses a really bad product of basketball," he says. "It's just been so bad to watch that people can't stomach it, and I can't blame the fans, because, you know, it gets to the point where it's almost a waste of time."

He says the big difference you see is in how many people aren't going to the games anymore, because "people don't want to pay to watch this crap."

The wounds caused by O'Neal's departure in 1996 have healed, but we're a little more than five and a half years since Howard demanded his trade. Since then, the Magic have been forced to move on from other players, including Maurice Harkless (who was traded to Portland for a second-round draft pick) and fan favorite Ryan Anderson (who was traded to the New Orleans Hornets for Gustavo Ayon). In that time, too, general manager Rob Hennigan happened. Hennigan was supposed to be a promising young executive when the team hired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012. At 30 years old, Hennigan was the youngest general manager in the NBA when he stepped into his position in Orlando.

The Hennigan experiment was a failure, however. Under his tenure the Magic managed to crawl away with a 132–278 record – the worst five-year stretch in team history. On top of that, there were a number of NBA Draft selections that didn't quite work, and there were injuries every time hope began to blossom.

"It really is like a cavalcade of things going against them that got [the Magic] to this point today. At this point, you look at it and it's almost like there's no end in sight in this rebuilding process," Baumann says.

So how do you fix the Magic?

The short answer is obvious: Win, and keep winning.

That's easier said than done, and wins won't be easy to come by for the Magic in the coming years. Baumann says it'll likely take at least three seasons and as many accomplished drafts to up the team's performance. Rossman-Reich is cautiously optimistic, particularly when it comes to young talent like Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, who have both made positive strides when their health permits.

As for the Salvagios, they're a bit harder to pin down.

"I don't want to say anything against the management, because, actually, the management has been pretty good to me," Salvagio says. "They encourage me to do what I do, OK? I think if this management now does the right thing, I think they've got to keep some of these young players, but we need a superstar. We need a Giannis Antetokounmpo." (He's referring to the Greek Freak, the Milwaukee Bucks forward whose statistics have shot through the roof.)

But the Salvagios are relentless in their love for the team. However frustrating the Magic can be, that sort of discussion is off-limits during dinnertime.

Tonight, as the savory aroma of Mary's chicken parmesan wafts from the kitchen oven, there's actually something to be hopeful for. It's not the game against the Jazz later that night; the Magic had already lost so often that the idea of making the playoffs was farfetched. It's Mary's cooking that's worth looking forward to, because Salvagio – the Fat Guy – is hungry.

Mary finishes setting the table and sits down. They both then bow their heads to pray. "Lord, thank you for everything you've given us; you've given us so much," Salvagio says, hands clasped together, head down, eyes closed.

Faith is a fickle thing. By definition it means "to have complete trust or confidence in someone or something." But for the Salvagios, their sense of faith is easily interchangeable with their sense of loyalty – loyalty to both their values and to their team.

As Salvagio said earlier in the night, "That's the only way I'd want it to be. I'm loyal to all the people around me; loyalty is a big thing with me. I'm loyal to this team, OK?"

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