For too many years to count Dwight Howard held a grudge against the Orlando Magic organization and their fans. He won’t publicly discuss the who, what and where of it all. All you get out of Howard was he was done wrong by the organization that drafted him with the number one pick in 2004.
Let’s take his side for a second. If the Magic made mistakes, were arrogant, threw him under the bus with the media, and just plain dropped the ball (when it came to Howard’s injury which needed surgery), they are paying for it big time. The Magic lost Shaq and couldn’t recover until Howard. They lost Howard and have been miserable since. Of the lottery picks the Magic have chosen after the Howard trade not one of them have been All-Stars with Orlando.
The list: Victor Oladipo (traded). Aaron Gordon. Mario Hezonja (traded). Domantas Sabonis (traded). Jonathan Issac. Mohamed Bomba.
As for Howard, he wasn’t blameless. He was petulant, spoiled, sensitive, and didn’t have a clue about his own ability. He wanted superstar glory without possessing superstar talent or work ethic. Howard came into the draft as a defensive rebounder and shot blocker and that is what he was for most of his career. That he was unaware of his own weaknesses, that he blamed others instead of looking in the mirror, that he thought he could start his career over somewhere else, was the Dwight Howard conundrum. He was thrust in the middle of his own fantasy that was disintegrating with each Dwight Howard change of scenery.
It didn’t have to be that way. Particularly not with the fans. Howard personalized their anger without understanding it. Fans feel a certain way about their organization and star player. Dwight delivered the Magic to the NBA Finals. The fans settled in for the long haul. They wanted Howard to recruit other stars to join him in Orlando, not the other way around. Asking for a trade was seen as an aggressive act against them, and their loyalty.
What the fans didn’t understand about Dwight Howard was how much he loved them. When they turned on him, it hurt. It dug deep.
If he thought it through rationally, Howard never would have left Orlando, despite the breakdown in communication with Orlando GM Rob Hennigan (Hennigan was fired in 2017). In Orlando, Howard was a 6-time All-Star, 3-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he led the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. He was building a very strong resume as M.I.M.P.- Most Important Magic Person. In his 620 games for the franchise, Howard averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds. But the young Howard always wanted more. Orlando wasn’t big enough. His biggest mistake was not appreciating what he had in Orlando.
Magic fans biggest mistake was thinking it was going to last. They ignored how the Magic front office always find ways to screw things up.
Howard hasn’t forgotten any of it but the emotions have shrunk into a thin memory of his tortured history with the Magic. “I used to be bitter but I let it go. And by letting it go, it just dropped all the weight that it had, and it just made me a better person.” Either Howard has been to therapy or he has matured. Things happen. Mistakes are human. Move on and move forward.
It is what this Lakers redo is all about. Be the best person right now. And yet, he will never be able to erase that he traded relevancy for money and a subjugated role when he asked out.
An older player now, Howard has lost his vaunted athleticism. His footwork was always hit and miss as was his jumper. But his automatic rising up over defenders to smash the ball through the net isn’t so automatic anymore. His jump hook is frail. He doesn’t run the floor the way he used to. Instead of athleticism, he digs down deep for brute force. Pushing folk out the lane, illegal screens, bully ball. He gives 110% in effort, hustle, and desire. If only this Dwight had met the star Dwight.
He doesn’t complain about touches. He isn’t an offensive threat anymore, outside of dunk. A role player who brings it defensively, playing for a defensive coach, nurtured by LeBron James, Howard has the value he was always seeking even if he doesn’t have the glorious stats.
During the Orlando game on a Wednesday night, Howard was pushed by Michael Carter-Williams. Teammate Jared Dudley, as he is eager to do, jumped into the scrum and defended Howard. Dudley was ejected for running in and escalating a non-fight. Howard was pleased Dudley defended him. “I’m just happy he did that” Howard said.
What Howard didn’t say was its own quiet story. Jared Dudley did what the Magic organization wouldn’t, what they refused to do. Jared Dudley stood up for Dwight Howard in the arena where Howard felt abandoned. Dudley had his back. He protected him.