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Game 7 is where dreams are made, legends are born | Commentary

CLEVELAND — How excited are you, Magic fans?

How excited are you, Magic players and coaches?

Hell, how excited are you, Magic media?

I’ll admit it, I’m so over-the-moon excited that this old convenience-store jingle keeps popping into my head:

Oh, thank heaven for 7-Eleven!

Except, as a sports fan, I keep singing to myself:

Oh, thank heaven for Game 7.

“This is literally the stuff you dream about as a kid,” Magic guard Cole Anthony said as his team prepared for Sunday’s seventh and final game of their first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Added Magic coach Jamahl Mosley: “This is the moment you play for. This is why we do what we do.”

Game 7s.

There is nothing in sports quite like them.

They truly are seventh heaven.

These are the games where dreams are made, legends are born and stories are told.

We would not know the iconic name of Bill Mazeroski if not for his ninth-inning game-winning home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series that elevated the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates to a victory over Mickey Mantle and the mighty New York Yankees. Even though Mazeroski was a seven-time All-Star and had more than 2,000 career hits, his name is only remembered because of that one Game 7 moment.

“At that moment, I thought I had hit a home run to win a game and end the World Series,” Mazeroski once said. “I had no idea it was something people would still be talking about years and years later. No idea.”

Or what about Willis Reed, in those bygone days before load management, limping into sports history and onto the court at Madison Square Garden before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers?

Reed had torn a thigh muscle in Game 5 and missed Game 6. In Game 7, despite doubts about his ability to play, Reed famously hobbled onto the court during warmups. He even scored the first two baskets for the Knicks before having to leave the game due to the injury, but his presence alone served as an inspiration to help the Knicks win the championship.

In contrast, Knicks shooting guard John Starks will always be remembered for going 2-for-18 from the field in a Game 7 loss to the Houston Rockets in the 1994 NBA Finals.

“You never get over it,” Starks would say years later. “You just kind of put it in a little box in your mind and keep it there. When the playoffs come around, [the little box] starts to open up a little bit.”

Granted, this Magic-Cavs Game 7 isn’t in the NBA Finals or the World Series, but it’s still a Game 7, and it’s yet another chance for this young Magic team to once again prove they belong. Before the season began, most NBA analysts and the Vegas oddsmakers picked the Magic to be among the worst teams in the league. And when the playoffs started, even though they were a No. 5 seed, the betting odds of the Magic winning a championship were third from the bottom among 20 playoff and Play-In teams. The only two teams below the Magic were the Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Bulls, both of whom were eliminated in the Play-In tournament.

Don’t think this lack of respect isn’t resonating within the Magic locker room. You can just hear it in the voice of Mosley when he talks about the opportunity his team is being presented with during Game 7 in Cleveland.

“One opportunity, being on the road, Game 7,” Mosley said. “We’re looking forward to laying it all out there on the line. I think our guys will embrace it. It’s not going to be easy, nor do we want it to be. The harder it is, the better we will be.”

See what I mean? Even the usually even-keeled Mosley is fired up. When it comes to Game 7s, you don’t hear the typical coach speak. You don’t hear anybody say this is just another game and it counts the same as all the rest.

No, this is the ultimate test for a team. This is when a seven-month season — a season filled with blood and sweat, twists and turns, ups and down, cheers and jeers — all comes down to one mega-game. Winner moves on. Loser goes home.

This is a special game and a special moment in Magic history. There have only been three other Game 7s in franchise history, and all of them were memorable for one reason or another.

The first one came in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals when the Shaq and Penny led the Magic to a 105-81 rout of the Indiana Pacers.

The second came in the first-round of the 2003 playoffs after the Magic had taken a 3-1 lead on the top-seeded Detroit Pistons and Tracy McGrady purportedly made the infamous misstatement about how good it was going to feel “to finally get into the second round.” The Magic lost the next three games by double digits, including a 108-93 defeat in Game 7.

The last time the Magic were in a Game 7 was in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals against the storied Boston Celtics, who had been 17-3 at home in Game 7s and 32-0 when leading a seven-game series 3-2 as they did after Game 5. And yet the Magic buried the Celtics by throwing a Boston Three Party and draining 13 of 21 shots from 3-point range en route to a 101-82 victory.

The Magic’s No. 1 fan, local attorney Dennis Salvagio (aka “The Fat Guy”), wore a white tuxedo to TD Garden for that 2009 game.

“This is Game 7,” the Fat Guy said of his attire. “You have to look a little more sophisticated in a game of this magnitude. This is a game that shows the Magic are back as one of the elite franchises in the league. We’ve been waiting for this a long time.”

If this Magic team can win in Cleveland, long-suffering fans will have the same cathartic feeling.

But no matter what happens, take a moment to savor it and relish it. Enjoy the dripping drama, the intense emotion and the nervous tension whereby each possession, each shot and, yes, each mistake will be dissected under the microscope of scrutiny.

As the late, great Bill Russell once said, “Game 7 is the truest test of a team’s character.”

Or as Derek Jeter once said, “Game 7 is where dreams are made.”

How fired up are you, Magic fans?

How fired up are you, Magic players and coaches?

How fired up are you, Magic media?

Oh, thank heaven for Game 7.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and 969TheGame.com/listen