The Orlando Magic were part of one of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) biggest stories last year when their playoff game was canceled thanks to Milwaukee Bucks protesting over the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Several months later, the Magic continue to pursue social justice off the court. In fact, the team has made it part of their mission.
“The Orlando Magic remains deeply committed to diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion, and to work collectively to promote peaceful and necessary social change,” Orlando Magic COO Alex Martins said during a virtual event to celebrate Black History Month.
The team has formed an internal social justice task force comprised of the Magic and its G League affiliate the Lakeland Magic and the Orlando Solar Bears, a minor league hockey team.
Some of the players are also on board.
“Obviously we have a loud voice that reaches a lot of people,” Michael Carter-Williams, a guard who plays for the Magic, told Florida Daily.
Carter-Williams said a great deal of progress has been made since last May’s protests.
“It’s really great to see that young guys like us with a big voice actually care, and are willing to put the time in to make change,” he said.
Carter-Williams is helping his teammates by spurring them to action.
“Everyone has gone in their own direction in how they want to help,” Carter, affectionately called MCW by the fans, told Florida Daily.
Other Magic players have also focused on social justice efforts including center Mo Bamba’s focus on getting out the vote efforts and Aaron Gordon working on child education issues.
The loudest voice pushing for social change in the Magic has come from an unlikely place: Steve Clifford, the head coach of the team.
“We don’t want to be out there just doing photo ops,” Clifford told Florida Daily, and he’s acting on his words, meeting with local leaders and politicians with a specific purpose. “Policies, laws and the people making them become a big part if we want to make positive and sustainable change.”
Clifford said the pandemic has “hurt us” in terms of how much he and the Magic can get out in the community and work with people to help bring about change. Once the pandemic eases, Clifford and the Magic plan to hold town halls, voting education efforts and more conversations about police reform.
For now, Clifford is focusing on the Magic and will “try to help the players become more educated about how they can help in your city.”
While he also meets with social change agents in Central Florida. Clifford has one end goal: college scholarships for inner-city kids in Orlando, adding that new police officers are often not comfortable patrolling the city’s highest crime neighborhoods.
“What we are trying to do is set up scholarship programs where we can find local leadership from places like Parramore and target guys where we can help them go to school, major in criminal justice, and then hopefully come back to try and fortify that aspect of law enforcement in Orlando,” Clifford said.
Carter-Williams wants to continue to meet with people in Orlando committed to helping kids and making a difference.
“There’s a lot of work still to be done, but I can definitely see change,” said Carter-Williams.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.