The Orlando Magic are a small market team in a big market league. Over the past 20 years the NBA has gone from a normal professional sports league with parity to a league where only the big and rich survive. The Magic have struggled with this since 1996 and the snub of center Nikola Vucevic from this year’s all-star game illuminates that struggle.
The Magic have always had trouble as a small market team. That usually has to do with players. In 1996 star center Shaquille O’Neal lied to team officials about considering a new contract offer and bolted to the Los Angeles Lakers to become a rapper. Four years later after leading a revolt against head coach Brian Hill, Anfernee Hardaway demanded a trade to the Phoenix Suns. In 2004 after refusing the play much of a season in which the Magic won just 21 games, Tracy McGrady demanded a trade and was shipped to the Houston Rockets. Finally this past offseason Dwight Howard, after flip-flopping several times about whether he wanted to be traded or not, decided to request a trade to the Brooklyn Nets and was sent west to Los Angeles.
While selfishness was the main reason these players wanted traded, the small market in which the Magic reside had a lot to do with it as well. O’Neal and Howard wanted to be traded to benefit from the marketability of a larger city. This is a problem that the NBA has created by promoting the star players of the big city teams, showing those teams constantly on national television, and virtually ignoring the smaller markets.
This year second year center Vucevic, who was acquired in the Howard trade from the Lakers, has had a breakout year averaging a double-double. When the all-star game reserves were announced, he was on a nine-game double-digit rebound streak which was the most in the league. Despite this he was snubbed for an all-star spot as the NBA coaches instead took Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat, a larger market team.
Moves like the snub of Vucevic show players who are on the Magic that they will not be as famous, rich, or marketable in Orlando as they would in the bigger city. Being how that’s what’s most important to NBA players these days, that leads them to look ahead to the end of their contract at which time they inevitably look for the exit following the bright lights of Hollywood or Broadway.
Unfortunately there’s not much the Magic can do about this. With David Stern departing and being replaced by Adam Silver as NBA commissioner, the Magic’s only hope is that Silver will be more helpful to the smaller markets like Orlando, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Charlotte Bobcats. If not, these teams’ hopes of winning an NBA title are nothing more than unrealized dreams.