PORTLAND – Ryan Totka is an entrepreneur, celebrity booking agent and perhaps most important for our purposes here at the hideout, an unabashed Orlando Magic fan.
So he owes us no apologies for advocating for his favorite team’s best player, that would be three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, to fight the growing trend and stick around when free agency hits after next season.
Totka has already debuted a website, StayDwight.com, T-shirts and a digital billboard in Orlando to kick off the campaign. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. Howard has a long time to go before he makes a decision on his future.
All that does is give Totka more time to intensify his efforts, which he clearly plans on doing, based on an email conversation we had with him as he awaited Friday night’s Game 3 of the Magic-Hawks playoff series.
We asked Totka if “The Decision,” last summer’s LeBron James free agent-palooza on ESPN, had anything to do with his campaign. We figured it was a logical conclusion considering the similarities in the dilemma facing both young stars, choosing between the city and franchise that sheltered you as you grew from a potential star into a full-blown megastar.
“I think LeBron’s decision stunned his hometown people the most, the one’s who see his face on a daily basis, driving to work seeing his face on signs and billboards around the city,” Totka said. “In Cleveland, he was the first person people talk about with their family and at work from the moment they wake up. Dwight is Orlando’s LeBron, the same way the city brands him around the town.”
That’s why Totka said he wanted his campaign to get rolling before the free-agent hype kicked up for Howard, while also giving local fans a chance to chime in with their support during the playoffs.
“The reception has been great among local businesses around town,” Totka said. “It’s interesting talking to the owners of restaurants and bars around the Amway Center, and truly explaining the economic impact a player like Dwight has in downtown Orlando. Many restaurants are doing what it takes now, creating menu items called the “D12″ Burrito and “Superman” hotdog. I live 200 yards from the arena, so I get to see everything first hand.”
While Totka has not yet had the chance to speak to Howard face-to-face about the campaign, he has bumped into others that speak the Magic center on a regular basis. He’s made sure to spread the word to anyone willing to listen. And that includes Magic assistant and Howard’s mentor Patrick Ewing.
“I ran into (Ewing) at the Apple store yesterday and I actually had my StayDwight shirt on,” Totka said. “My buddy who worked there introduced me to him and he loved the idea, saying ‘We Need Him’.” Magic VP Pat Williams wrote Totka to set up a lunch meeting and he’s even corresponded with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Totka said he emailed Cuban the billboard he put in and said he got an immediate response:
Meet Dan Fegan. Dan meet Ryan. Dan is Dwight’s agent. Dan, Ryan does off court promotions and bookings for celebs. He has gotten me engagements. I have known Ryan for a while now
You guys should know each other if only to keep in touch on the keep Dwight effort.
In the end, it’ll be up to Howard to decide his own future.
A new collective bargaining agreement should be in place by then, so there is quite a bit about this situation that is still to be determined.
“I’m really torn about what I think Dwight is going to decide. It’s great to hear everyone’s strong opinions around town,” Totka said. “Some think he would never leave … others think he has one foot out the door to Los Angeles, and not the Lakers, but to play with Blake Griffin and the Clips, which would be a change of the guard in L.A. Being an entrepreneur, I’ve realized that money is not always the motivation. You have to be where your heart is. Deep down inside I think he is going to stay in the city that loves him, O-Town!”
Only time will tell. Howard’s connection to the fans in Orlando is strong. And he’s a hit with fans all over the place, he’s got Twitter followers galore and has built a global following (check the video below) thanks to the supersized personality that matches his superstar game.
But one thing is clear, Totka isn’t going anywhere.
In fact, he’s just getting started with his efforts.