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Sports have a way of conferring an identity and uniting a community like no other regional institution. It is a brand people emblazon on their cars and their person; it crosses cultures and every economic demographic. In addition, fan status is passed down from generation to generation, like a family heirloom. What is often unrecognized, however, is the place sports franchises and players have in affecting positive change in their community because of the platform sports present.
For Linda Landman Gonzalez, vice president of philanthropy and multicultural insights and president of the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, that was one of the surprises that drew her to her position. It was seeing “how powerful sports are in galvanizing a community,” she said.
A veteran at utilizing the power of a brand for community benefit, Landman Gonzalez spent nine years as director of diversity and community relations for Darden Restaurants before coming to the Magic in 2007. With the Magic, she found that their organizational objectives and strategic goals were a perfect match for her own.
Though the Magic is recognized around the world as a dynamic NBA franchise, Landman Gonzalez observed, “We are committed to the betterment of the community we serve and to be a neighbor of choice.” Though there are countless examples, one of the most recent was Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris receiving the March 2015 NBA Cares Community Assist Award for giving back to the area.
For her, these efforts are quite personal. She finished her freshman year of college at New York University and went to Mexico for a summer anthropology course. After that summer, she didn’t come back to the U.S. for 13 years. Looking back, she said, “It shaped my life and career. I know what it’s like to be an outsider and wanting to acculturate, and also what it takes to be successful and to make it feel that you’re included. I left truly as a child and came of age in Mexico.”
Speaking of her current role, she said, “I had never thought about working for an NBA team, but it just proves that when you find that niche and gain expertise, the industry you join is always enhanced by what you bring to the table. In the case of the Orlando Magic, their ability to focus their expectations on clear and attainable outcomes, matched my expertise perfectly. For me, it created the ideal combination of my experience and desire to reach the community, with what they as an organization wanted to achieve.
“I believe that when you join a corporation or an organization, that your expertise is only as valuable as the strategy and goals of the organization. This is what creates success. For the Magic, it has enabled us to make tremendous contributions to our community through our investments of time, treasure and talent.”
As she explained, “I have always been drawn to efforts, issues and initiatives that impact people and our community.” Then quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, she added, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”