Former Orlando Magic Player, Coach, Unite for School Funding
If you're an NBA junkie like me, this story is almost too good to be true.
Stan Van Gundy, the former coach of the Orlando Magic who was fired after the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, has become the chairman of a group in Seminole County, Fla., that aims to raise property taxes to boost school funding, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Dwight Howard, the superstar of the Magic during Van Gundy's tenure (he's since been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers), has "pledged his support," Van Gundy said Monday in a radio interview with 740 The Game.
What makes this Van Gundy-Howard reunion so incredible? Depending on who you believe, the larger-than-life Howard may have been at the helm of Van Gundy's demise in Orlando.
In the radio interview, Van Gundy explained what's at stake: Seminole County schools have been traditionally strong, but have some of the lowest per-pupil spending of any county in the United States. His group, the Citizens for Preservation of Property Values, is encouraging voters to approve a ballot measure this November that would approve a 1-mill increase in property taxes for four years, which Van Gundy hopes could raise upwards of $25 million per year for the county's public schools.
"I live in Seminole County. One of the big reasons I'm living in Seminole County, when I came up here to coach the Magic, is because of the quality of schools in Seminole County," Van Gundy said.
As it turns out, Howard also still has a house in Seminole County. And despite their professional falling out, Van Gundy said in the interview that he and Howard remain on good terms.
"I think Dwight's history will show that he's had great concern for kids in the Central Florida community, and so, with him still living here, we asked him to help and he didn't hesitate," Van Gundy said. (He later clarified that Howard would be providing financial support.)
Given the bitter divorce between Van Gundy, Howard, and the Magic, the NBA blogosphere has been eating this story up over the past day. Matt Moore of CBSSports.com suggested that Van Gundy's group plans a pledge drive and livestreams it in which Van Gundy would throw a pie in the face of Howard if they raised enough money. Eric Freeman of Yahoo! Sports' Ball Don't Lie said "it's genuinely impressive" that the two men could move past what happened last year and work together for a greater good. Sekou Smith of NBA.com jokingly suggested that if Van Gundy and Howard can work together, maybe Republicans and Democrats will soon begin doing so, too.
As a sidenote: At the end of the radio interview, Van Gundy dished some brutal honesty that should please all teachers.
"The one thing that everyone agrees on is that education comes down to the teacher, and yet we treat these people with so little respect... we just keep beating these people down. And I think the bigger issue, even in economics, that we're not, by our actions, showing these teachers how much we value what they do. They arguably have the most important job in our community—educating our kids, who are then going to drive the future of our economy and everything else in our country—and yet we don't think they're worthy of raises, we think they should pay for their own school supplies. Honestly, it's embarrassing that we think that's okay."
Photo: Orlando Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, right, and Dwight Howard smile at each other as Howard comes off the floor in the first half of a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 7 in Philadelphia. (Michael Perez/AP)
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