StayDwight campaign takes center stage in Orlando
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Visitors are welcomed to the Magic's kingdom by a five-story mural of Dwight Howard as they drive down Interstate 4 past the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic.
During this All-Star Weekend, there's a jovial atmosphere in the city but, simultaneously, a somber "going-away party" feel. With the NBA trade deadline looming and Howard asking to be dealt, this could be his last hurrah in Orlando.
Not if Ryan Totka, an eight-year Magic season-ticket holder, has anything to say about it.
Totka, the creator of StayDwight.com, has spent $20,000 of his own money on an elaborate campaign to keep Superman in his metropolis.
A celebrity booking agent by trade, Totka knows the right people and is pulling out the big guns to help keep Orlando's big man.
He purchased four billboards in Orlando, printed 10,000 posters and distributed 500 T-shirts and 1,000 stickers with his slogan, "StayDwight." He's accumulated 2,000 Twitter followers and 3,000 Facebook fans. He even got the mayor of Orlando to record a video recognizing Howard's contributions to the city.
While the basketball world's eyes are focused on Orlando this weekend, Totka will be staging StayDwight giveaways, posting signs in front of the arena and planning a presence at all the hottest NBA All-Star parties. The StayDwight gorilla suit man may also make his way to the arena -- something Totka has done before.
"The difference between when [Shaquille O'Neal] left Orlando and now that Dwight may leave is that fans have a voice in the matter via social media and campaigns like StayDwight.com," Totka said. "If you're Dwight, it's got to be hard to think about leaving when you see the kind of support we have drummed up."
Totka started his campaign during the 2010-11 first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. He realized it could be the final time Howard appeared in the postseason as a member of the Magic.
"I couldn't let the way we went out in the playoffs be the last postseason memory of Dwight Howard on the Magic," he said. "I knew I had to do something.
"From his on-court play to his charity events, to the business his presence brings to the downtown area, he means so much to this city."
But not everyone shares Totka's sentiments.
Jorge Jimenez, manager of Superman's, a barbershop less than a mile from the arena, doesn't care if Howard stays or goes.
"I was a Magic fan before he got here, and I will be a Magic fan after he leaves," Jimenez says while displaying a Magic tattoo on his arm. "A lot of people feel, if he wants to go, then go. He's messing up the team by worrying and talking about the trade. He needs to worry about playing and getting to the Finals."
As a downtown business owner, Jimenez's mind may be changed by the financial impact of Howard and the Magic. The team's presence is linked to $2.2 million of Orlando's economy during an 82-game basketball season, according to the Orlando Business Journal.
Then there's the $480 million, 18,800-seat Amway Center, which Howard has played in for just one full season. The arena, two-thirds of which was funded by the public, will look like an impulse buy to taxpayers if Howard departs.
One thing fans seem to agree on is they aren't as desperate for Howard to stay as a certain Midwest city was about its star in 2010.
"Cleveland fans definitely wanted LeBron more than we do Dwight because that was the only good player they had on their team," Jimenez said. "We can get good players for Dwight. Orlando is a great town with a new arena, and there's always going to be someone who wants to come here."
Totka added, "When LeBron left, you had to feel bad for Cleveland because he was their hometown kid. I'm more surprised that LeBron would leave than Dwight trying to leave Orlando."