This morning the Magic held a hastily arranged press conference to announce the retirement of CEO Bob Vander Weide after nearly 20 years with the club. Team officials maintained that the move had been planned for months, and had nothing to do with a 1 a.m. phone call Vander Weide made to Dwight Howard. Vander Weide said he had drunk "two, maybe three glasses of wine over three hours," but denies he was intoxicated.
Daralene Jones, a reporter for WFTV Channel 9, repeatedly pressed Vander Weide about the phone call, culminating in this question:
"Do you recall saying 'Me and Otis and Stan [Van Gundy], we don't want you to go anywhere. We suck without you. Everyone knows. We've got nothing else. Orlando is a terrible place, and we've got the Amway thing, but who the ["f"] cares?' Do you recall saying any of that?"
Here's the problem: I made that up that quote.
Yesterday, BHSN broke the news of Vanderweide stepping down, and buried what would have been our lede: that the late-night phone call might have been the tipping point. With very little in the way of further information out there (Vander Weide had not yet commented on the allegation, nor the Magic), it would have been a disservice to simply parrot the news. This was one of the more amazing stories in sports history, when you think about it: a team executive forced out after drunk dialing his star player. This deserved more.
So I wrote an imaginary voicemail message from Vander Weide to Howard. I filled it with the "I love you man"s and exaggerated emotions common to every late-night drunk call ever, and threw in some shots at Orlando and the Magic. As it turns out, I got a few specifics right. Vander Weide was drinking wine, a fact I didn't know. In his presser today, he talked about his "love" for Howard. These were happy accidents.
At no point did I write that this was fake, but I also never claimed it was an actual conversation. If you have to make clear that something satire, you've failed. Conversely, if people are fooled into thinking it's real, it doesn't necessarily mean you've succeeded. Plenty of people were fooled, both on Twitter and in the comments of my post. And apparently Daralene Jones and Alyssa Newcomb of ABC News, who also ran with the "report" that Vander Weide told Howard the Magic would "suck" without him.
I rarely do satire, mostly because we break a lot of legitimate news around here and don't want to discredit that. (Dear Orlando Sentinel: we are not "a site devoted to sports parody.") But it's also because satire is really, really hard. It should be grounded enough to be plausible, but also have enough absurdity to let the reader know it's not real. Either Daralene or I came up short somewhere. At least she's enjoying her newfound fame.