Pat Williams doesn’t sound like someone who needs any luck. The senior vice president of the Orlando Magic has written 55 books, climbed Mount Rainier and run 13 Boston Marathons.
That’s just a small sampling of his accomplishments, so here is a guy who obviously knows how to get it done.
During his “spare time,” he helped co-found the Magic, raised 19 children (14 adopted) and was responsible for drafting Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal into the NBA and bringing Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Speaking before the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance Breakfast of Champions on Wednesday, Williams told his audience that having a dream is an essential quality of every winner, regardless of their occupation.
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He might have added that patience and a little bit of good fortune don’t hurt, either.
What Williams couldn’t do in 24 years, LeBron James did with one swoop of his pen when he signed with the Miami Heat this summer coming with Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade.
Williams had always wanted to turn the Heat-Magic into a passion-laced NBA rivalry even before they came into the league in back-to-back seasons, with Miami joining first in 1988. Unfortunately, Williams could never put the rivalry in the same class as Dallas-San Antonio, Boston-L.A. or Boston-New York (when the Knicks were good).
“We tried to stir that rivalry up and couldn’t do it, but this summer has taken care of that,” Williams said. “Miami has struck an incredible note. They’ve made the boldest offseason strike in the history of sports. So now we suddenly sit in a state where people are talking basketball in the summer.”
There has been plenty of debate about whether this conglomerate of hardwood rock stars will succeed or turn into a South Beach lemon.
NBA analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy predicts Miami will break the league single-season record of 72 wins. Former Celtics great Robert Parrish says they won’t get out of the East because they have no quality point guard or center.
Talk might be cheap, but in the NBA, it rings cash registers and causes goose bumps in TV executives.
Williams just smiles because he knows this kind of dialogue couldn’t be better for the league.
The Magic are opening a new arena this season, which generated interest. But when LeBron decided to become Public Enemy No. 1 ticket sales went through the roof in the city that once listed Mickey Mouse and Goofy as its most famous residents.
“The Heat sold out their building in one day,” Williams said. “They’ve been struggling terribly with whole sections screened off in their arena. Then within 24 hours of LeBron signing they sell out and fire their whole sales staff, meaning we don’t need you anymore.”
Disney World and all its creative geniuses couldn’t have invented a better modern day Darth Vader than LeBron did all by himself. Sports is the only venue where hatred is actually good because even fans strapped for cash will pay to see a hated rival fall.
With Superman now residing in Orlando and taking on the form of a 7-foot giant of a man named Dwight Howard, Williams couldn’t have dreamed up a better soap opera to entice fans into his arena.
“Miami has 34 national TV games. What they have done is not good for basketball in Toronto or Cleveland, but we are going to see fervor in the buildings where they play,” Williams said. “It’s going to be the entire sporting public against Miami. Everything south of the Everglades will be fanatical Heat. and the rest of the United States will be anti-Heat big time.”
Williams knows what it’s like to have three Hall of Famers and not win. He was GM in Philly when the 76ers had Dr. J, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley for two years and couldn’t get a ring.
“Dr. J was on the decline, and Barkley wasn’t quite ready, but I’ve learned from 43 years in this business that it’s very difficult to win the NBA championship,” Williams said. “Everything has to work for you. You have to stay healthy and have the other team (biggest rival) get hurt, and you have to get the calls along the way. Miami is now capable of winning the title every year, but there is a huge separation between perception and reality.
“And don’t forget, the Lakers have a pretty good basketball team.”