ORLANDO — Pat Williams knows about beating the odds.
Three times he has been the official team representative when the Magic won the Draft Lottery.
At 71, he is smiling and relentlessly active and looking fit less than a year after being diagnosed with cancer.
So while the immediate outlook for the local NBA franchise would seem to run the gamut from bleak to dire, Williams says Orlando as a sports market and a city is in far better shape to withstand the loss of Dwight Howard than when Shaquille O’Neal bolted for L.A. back in 1996.
“It won’t be nearly as big a blow,” said Williams. “Not really. This town has grown so much since then. We had 55 million visitors last year. That’s never happened before in an American city. I think Orlando can stand on its own. It’s a major, major market now.
“So is there sense of dismissal, that we’re ‘a dried up pond,’ as Shaq called it? No. No.
“Of course, we were a good bit smaller then and maybe not as sophisticated. Of course, he never left here and has lived here ever since. So I guess you could say that Shaq hasn’t changed since then, but we have.
“The Shaq experience, it continues to irk people with no end in sight and that was 16 years ago. (more…)