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Mike Bianchi: Jimmy 'Bubba' Hewitt, Orlando Magic co-founder who died Sunday, gave us pro sports

By Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

Hewitt immediately put together a group of investors. He flew up to New York to meet with then-NBA Commissioner David Stern. He convinced Williams to leave Philly and run the team in Orlando if the city was granted a franchise.

And in the end, Jimmy even took one for the team. According to the book "Making Magic" — written by Williams and former Sentinel columnist Larry Guest — the NBA had a problem with the ownership group Hewitt had assembled. Stern didn't want such a large investor group with no majority owner. He wanted a small investor group with a large majority owner. Without a big-money owner, Orlando's NBA dream would have died.

When a meeting was held to decide whether another Orlando businessman, Bill du Pont, should become the majority owner, Hewitt did not stand in the way. In fact, even though he was the brains of the expansion effort and put in all the time and work to get a franchise, he endorsed du Pont even if it meant his ownership role would be reduced to that of minority investor.

"It was emotional," Williams explained in the book. "There was pain and sympathy for Jimmy Hewitt. Here he was being told his deal would fly only if he was not The Man ... . On the half-yard line, he was being yanked out of the game, banished to the bench. Tough stuff. Hard. Jimmy responded beautifully. He said, simply, 'Well, let's do it ... . We have come too far and gotten too close. Whatever has to be done.' "

As I once wrote about Hewitt, "The best fathers often give up their own wants and desires for the good of the children. For his baby to survive, Hewitt, the patriarch of the Magic, had to sacrifice himself."

Hewitt never regretted his decision.

"I just wanted Orlando to have a team to root for," he told me.

Ben Hewitt still has the mask of his father's face that was distributed to the crowd at the Orlando Magic's inaugural game.

Throughout the game, fans at the packed arena would hold up the mask in front of their own faces and joyously scream out the words: "Hey, Bubba!!!"

 

Whenever I would talk to Hewitt over the years, he'd always end our conversations in the exact same way:

"Hey, Bubba, you're the best."

No, James Lewis Hewitt, you're the best.

So long, Bubba.

Rest in peace, Bubba.

But mostly, thank you, Bubba.

You knocked it from here to Bumby Street.

(c)2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC