ORLANDO, Fla. — Jimmy Hewitt, the co-founder of the Orlando Magic and a Central Florida businessman, died early Sunday. He was 79.

What You Need To Know

  • Central Florida businessman Jimmy Hewitt suggested Orlando as a site for an NBA team in 1986

  • He later convinced Pat Williams to leave the 76ers to help him try to land a team 

  • Orlando was granted an NBA franchise on December 22, 1988

According to reports, Hewitt had been suffering from dementia and recently contracted COVID-19.

“Jimmy Hewitt is the reason the Magic and professional sports exist in Orlando,” Magic Chief Executive Officer Alex Martins said in a statement released by the team and published on the Magic’s website. “It was Jimmy’s belief, perseverance, community spirit and vision that ‘Orlando is the place to be,’ which brought NBA basketball to Orlando and Central Florida. He is truly the founding father of the Orlando Magic and for that we will be eternally grateful. He was like a father to all Magic fans and we will miss him dearly.”

Hewitt met former Magic Senior Vice President and co-founder Pat Williams in 1984 when Williams was speaking at an event in Texas. They became friends, and when Williams came to Orlando in 1985 to speak at a local basketball clinic, Hewitt drove Williams to the airport. During that trip, Williams, who was then the Philadelphia 76ers' general manager, asked Hewitt, "Which location in Florida would be the best location for a potential NBA franchise — Miami, Tampa, or Jacksonville?” Hewitt responded, "Orlando is the place to be."

Hewitt, Williams, and then-Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick presented then-NBA Commissioner David Stern with a $100,000 check and a set of Mickey Mouse ears in July 1986. On April 22, 1987, the NBA Board of Governors granted an expansion franchise to Orlando, and on December 22, 1988, the Magic sold their 10,000th season ticket, fulfilling their commitment to the NBA. The team played its first NBA game in Orlando on October 13, 1989.

Hewitt was inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame in March 2017.