Nikola Vucevic’s farewell is only from Orlando Magic for the time being
Everyone admitted it was weird to see Nikola Vucevic put on a Chicago Bulls jersey.
The photos of him checking out his new jersey were weird enough, but seeing him in action with the same cute hook shot and causing the defensive headache with his pick and roll game was just weird.
Fans thought it was weird and former teammates thought it was weird too.
It’s so weird to see Vooch in a different uniform lol
– Evan Fournier (@EvanFourmizz) March 28, 2021
It was hard for a lot of people. The Orlando Magic are breaking new ground with a new plan and a completely revised roster. All of their best players will play important roles on the teams in the playoff hunt.
Fans suspected a shift is looming as both Evan Fournier’s contract expires and rumors of Aaron Gordon’s league worth mounting. But Vucevic, who had been the rock of the franchise and whose creation had made him very popular with fans of even his greatest critics over the past three years, should still be there.
The connection had clearly been deeper than anyone had imagined. Vucevic was still overwhelmed with emotion as he prepared for his first game with a new franchise. Orlando was still very much at home.
Even if Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic go their separate ways, they will always be connected. This farewell will only be temporary as the magic begins to celebrate and honor Vucevic’s legacy.
Magic has seldom parted with its star player on such good terms.
Shaquille O’Neal went out of his way to take photos at Magic at times and called Orlando a pond on the way to the door – not that Orlando or the Magic did anything to make him feel like he was in this free agency to be wanted.
Anfernee Hardaway also took to scorched earth in frustration with his overheated injuries – racial issues from the mid-1990s likely played a role in the media’s perception of Hardaway’s departure. Hardaway said on his return for the team’s 25th anniversary he wasn’t even sure the standing ovations he received would welcome him back to town.
Tracy McGrady bumped into his general manager and was frustrated enough to request a deal from his hometown. He still doesn’t really hide his disdain for how things ended up.
Dwight Howard’s waffles at his own commercial request left fans turning in the wind. The fans didn’t nearly forgive him.
Time heals all wounds. But the scars on the franchise definitely remain.
The reason no jerseys hanging in the rafters has as much to do with the franchise’s decision to wait for a championship to earn the right to withdraw jerseys as it does with the rocky relationships the franchise, fans, and fans have had his best players.
That discussion resumed when Magic fans began to grapple with Vucevic’s legacy and how the franchise can best remember him. Thursday’s franchise swap shock was due to the unexpected nature of Vucevic’s departure.
Nobody was ready to have this discussion yet. And it might be too early to deal fully with Vucevic and his legacy. The story takes some time to sit down and breathe.
Vucevic still has several years in his career. He’s not retiring anytime soon. And fans should hope that they can fill the Amway Center enough to show Vucevic’s appreciation when the Bulls make their first trip to Orlando next season.
There are very few players who would receive this kind of instant appreciation and ovation in Magic history – JJ Redick’s first game against the Orlando Magic with the Milwaukee Bucks is instant and last, as is Jameer Nelson’s first game in Orlando the Denver Nuggets or maybe Nick Anderson’s first time against his former team.
Through nine years on the team, Vucevic not only became a beloved figure in the team, but also a beloved figure in the community. As he noted, leaving people was probably as difficult as leaving teammates and the franchise, with whom he had largely played with for a decade.
Change is difficult for everyone, even if it is necessary. The emotions are still very rough as both Vucevic and the Magic storyline go their separate ways forward.
The discussion among fans has already begun to turn to the question of how best to recognize Vucevic’s achievements.
There was already a hint of this discussion as Vucevic began climbing to the top of several all-time brands. By that point, it was clear that Vucevic had risen from being a simple top 10 player in Magic history to becoming a potential best player outside of the team’s mountain. Rushmore.
Critics will still point to Vucevic’s inability to lift the team beyond a mere playoff appearance. He will be the face of the worst Magic basketball run in its short history.
It’s not all his fault. And it doesn’t change how fans feel or should feel about his tenure in office. But it’s part of his legacy.
Magic has trouble dealing with its own story.
They are one of the few teams that hasn’t withdrawn a player’s jersey yet. They have resisted such honors because the team has apparently not yet won a title and has instead chosen to form a Team Hall of Fame in the arena.
This has met their own jersey retirement criteria if not completely satisfied fans who want the team’s history to be celebrated more up front and center.
It seems generally accepted that Vucevic’s No. 9 should get up the ranks if Magic relaxes their jersey retirement criteria – other specific names would be Nick Anderson (No. 25), Shaquille O’Neal (No. 32) ) and Anfernee Hardaway (# 1), Tracy McGrady (# 1) and finally Dwight Howard (# 12).
In this group, only Anderson and McGrady have shown real affection or a desire to continue to be a part of the Orlando community beyond their place in the team’s history.
Whether Vucevic will return to the place where he said he switched from boy to man in a similar fashion remains to be seen. What plans the magic has to honor him in the short term when the cops get to Orlando will have to wait for the next season. And how to honor him and his legacy will be a debate that will last a while.
What is clear is that while Vucevic’s time for magic is over, his time in Orlando is not over yet. He’ll be in the franchise for a very long time.