Monday, June 1, 2009

The NBA, where curses get broken

Excuse this blog for feeling somewhat purposeless. The Curse of the Big Aristotle has all but been broken. The Orlando Magic are back in the NBA Finals -- against the Los Angeles Lakers no less.

I wore my conference championship shirt throughout the day after flying back to school in Chicago (and yes, I did fly home just for the game) and could do nothing but smile. After 14 years of doubt, frustration and failure, that mid-90s swagger had returned.

Orlando has faced down its doubters all season.

Many did not think the Magic could take the next step to become an elite team. Their start proved them wrong.

When Jameer Nelson went down, many thought the season was over. A quick trade for Rafer Alston patched things over and kept Orlando in the hunt.

Philadelphia and Boston both took leads in the first two rounds of the playoffs, making many question the merits of coach Stan Van Gundy. Could he overcome his "Master of Panic" moniker.

Superstar Dwight Howard was criticized for his outbursts against his coach and his struggled on the court. Then in Game Six against Cleveland, he proved he can take over games when necessary and that he might now be the most unstoppable force in the league (when he puts his mind to it).

No journey to a championship can be smooth. LeBron James and the Cavaliers learned that the hard way (is there any other way?). Cleveland had a hell of a season, but when matched up to an experienced, battle-test Orlando squad, the team could not dig in and face up the adversity.

The Magic could. And that is why history no longer matters as a fan of this team.

I caught myself earlier today from talking about the future. But then I realized that kind of talk is useless right now. Because for the first time in a long time, Orlando is not playing for the future.

The Curse has indeed been broken.

The team can win this thing now.

All that gloom and doom Magic fans are accustomed to should slowly dissipate once the Larry O'Brien Trophy is painted behind the logo at center court at the Amway Arena and we realize how close we are to finally earning our first championship.

I will admit, I was one of the doubters. I thought next year was the year the Magic climbed the ladder and broke through to the Finals. The Conference Finals was my goal for this team (to this point, everything has been gravy). Even against a Cleveland team I knew Orlando matched up well with, I thought James' destiny would be too much against an inexperienced -- and to that point -- inconsistent squad.

Orlando continues to prove the doubters wrong and keeps us on this (pardon the pun) Magical ride.

My gut tells me the Lakers can do the same to the Magic as I thought the Cavaliers could. But I know this team is much better than I can imagine or give them credit for. Everything past the second round is no longer gravy. There is a much bigger prize to be had.

And when you get this opportunity to win a title, you cannot squander it. You never know when Michael Jordan will come out of retirement.

That is why I think Orlando is going to win this series. In six games.

The individual matchups do not matter. The Magic are the better team in this series. They are the more gritty team in this series. They will play with the most heart.

There is no reason for this team and their fans to be satisfied with oh so close anymore. The championship is right within our reach.

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