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ORLANDO — From the moment the Orlando Magic arrived at the Walt Disney World campus for the NBA restart wearing t-shirts that read, “GET OFF THE BENCH, GET INTO THE GAME, VOTE,” the organization’s commitment to bringing about social change and combatting racism has been delivered loud and clear.
On Wednesday, the Magic continued their efforts to put those words into action.
Magic CEO Alex Martins, President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, Head Coach Steve Clifford and center Mo Bamba were on hand as the Magic announced that they’ve partnered with the City of Orlando, Orange County and Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles to open Amway Center as an early voting location.
“We are thrilled to say that the Amway Center will be an early voting location here in Orange County,” Martins said. “In addition, we want to recognize the DeVos family, our entire team of players and coaches, and specifically today, I’d like to thank our President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, our head coach Steve Clifford and Magic center Mo Bamba for pushing us forward in these efforts and really initiating these conversations.”
The facility will be open starting October 19 through November 1 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET on the north side of Amway Center at the Church Street entrance inside the Disney Atrium. All registered voters from Orange County will be able to cast their ballot at the Amway Center location, which is one of 20 early voting locations within Orange County. In addition, on National Voter Registration Day, the Amway Center will be open on September 22 for voter registration. This will also take place inside the Disney Atrium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“This voting location once again shows the power of collaboration and partnership that we have here in Central Florida,” City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “I want to thank our partners, the Orlando Magic, Alex Martins, coach Clifford, the players and the NBA for making voting a priority.”
Increasing voting awareness and access has been an overriding theme for the NBA since resuming action. Fifteen other teams in the league have already announced plans to open their arena doors for access to voting with many others expected to follow suit. State laws, public ownership of certain facilities and buildings undergoing renovations may prevent certain organizations from doing the same, but in those instances teams will likely promote messaging that will drive voters to local precincts.
“With the NBA, they’re so influential in the lives of our young adults and our teens,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said. “With some of our young adults, this is going to be the first time they’ve ever voted in a presidential election.”
It won’t stop there. The NBA recently announced that its teams, players and coaches agreed to immediately establish a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches and team governors, that will be focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.
“We all have platforms, but some may have platforms that reach differently,” said Bamba, who’s been active in the movement since June through his partnership with More Than a Vote. “As long as we’re all spreading the same message and unified this could be great.”
For the Magic, this initiative highlights their continued effort to combat racial injustice and bring the conversation of social change to the forefront.
“In order to make real change, we have to change laws, we have to change local policies, we have to change the way that we live,” Clifford said recently. “For all of us, the way that we can do that is to vote.”
That’s more than just words for the Magic. The team recently partnered with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which is recognized for its work on voting and criminal justice reform issues. It’s charged by President and Executive Director Desmond Meade, who led the FRRC to a historic victory in 2018 with the successful passage of Amendment 4, a grassroots citizen’s initiative which restored voting rights to over 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions. Amendment 4 represented the single largest expansion of voting rights in the United States in half a century and brought an end to 150 years of a Jim Crow-era law in Florida.
Prior to entering the NBA restart, Magic players, coaches and Basketball Operations staff also took part in an interactive Zoom call with Meade to discuss how they could enact social change and get others to vote in the coming months.
“We will be implementing various voting initiatives over the course of the next several weeks,” Martins said. “Our social justice task force meets (today) and they have been talking about various voting initiatives. So you’re going to see a very proactive and very public message from the Orlando Magic through social media and other mediums communicating to everyone in Orange County to register to vote here in the short term and then to get out to vote during the early voting period or on election day.”
The Magic have worked closely with Let Your Voice Be Heard, Inc, which is composed of community advocates and residents who have chosen to aid the fight for change and reform in impoverished neighborhoods by providing tools and resources that are so desperately needed in under-served and under-represented neighborhoods.
“Again, this whole thing is about trying to get people to understand that racism is a problem, bigotry is a problem, police accountability is a problem, and we’ve got to make changes,” Clifford said.
As Martins mentioned, the organization also developed a Social Justice Internal Task Force, which will address everything from recruiting and hiring practices to staff education to governmental, business and law enforcement relation initiatives.
In recent months, players and staff have also taken part in peaceful protests. Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams, among the players who’ve protested, took part in Demings‘ MLK Virtual Town Hall Meeting on July 15 along with Orlando County Sheriff John Mina and Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon. Last week, the Magic also held a call with Mina to discuss racial injustice and police brutality.
“We have a big platform that we can use to really make change in this country,” Carter-Williams said recently. “It starts with going home to our own cities and making change there. It starts with encouraging people to vote. It starts with using our platform to talk to people with power in this country and creating change.”
The NBA as a whole has shown tremendous commitment to these causes. The league has created the NBA Foundation that will contribute $300 million in initial funding focused on economic empowerment in the Black community. Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team owners will collectively contribute $30 million annually establishing this new, leaguewide charitable foundation. Through its mission to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement, the NBA Foundation will seek to increase access and support for high school, college-aged and career-ready Black men and women, and assist national and local organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development in NBA markets and communities across the United States and Canada.
Now, more than ever, it’s time for everyone to get off the bench, get into the game, and vote.