Is Dwight Howard Ready to Face Orlando?
Two hundred and fifteen days ago, Dwight Howard was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers. That may seem like a long time ago, but to Magic fans it feels like it was just yesterday.
Emotions are still running high in Orlando, where Howard continues to be ridiculed and criticized. Magic fans despise the 27-year-old center for turning his back on the team, initiating a year-long drama, holding the franchise hostage and forcing a trade in search of greener pastures.
Now, for the first time since the blockbuster four-team trade, Howard will return to Orlando. He’ll play in the Amway Center as a visitor for the first time in his career, and the scene could get ugly. While the people of Orlando have enjoyed watching Howard and the Lakers struggle throughout the course of this season, they’ve still had this day circled on their calendar. Until now, the only way they’ve been able to express their frustration is through 140-character tweets that may or may not have be seen by Howard. Now, they’ll be able to harass and berate Howard in person for several hours.
They want Howard to understand just how much they loathe him. They’ll boo every time he touches the ball. They’ll bring derogatory signs into the arena. They’ll chant insults throughout the game, some of which were suggested by the Magic’s official website including “Shaq Was Right” (since Shaquille O’Neal often criticized Howard’s game and said other centers were superior), “Nik Is Better” (since Orlando’s new center Nikola Vucevic has played well this season and shattered some of Howard’s records) and “Let’s Go Kobe” (since Kobe Bryant and Howard have butted heads this year).
Some fans have considered handing out flyers with specific chants such as “Broke Back Howard (a reference to Howard’s injury), and “Ty-son Chand-ler” (since Howard was agitated with Bryant’s recruiting pitch that said he could be L.A.’s Tyson Chandler). Other self-explanatory chants have been suggested such as “Grass Ain’t Greener,” “Over-rated,” “We Don’t Need You,” “Whiner,” “Diva” and “Dwight Who?”
Several local media outlets have even gotten in on the Howard bashing.
The Orlando Sentinel ran a Howard-themed rendition of Cee-Lo Green’s hit song “Forget You,” which featured animated Magic players Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu singing lyrics such as, “I guess our brand new arena wasn’t enough, and I’m like forget you and the Lakers too.”
Power 95.3 FM in Orlando purchased three billboards around the city that counts down the days, hours and minutes ‘Til Dwight Leaves Us Again.’ The billboards count down to the conclusion of the Magic-Lakers game on Tuesday night. The radio show has also handed out shirts with the phrase, “We’ll Never Forget You, Daryl” to suggest that Orlando has already moved on.
Many Magic fans have already converted their old No. 12 jerseys into Tobias Harris gear. Harris, who was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks at last month’s trade deadline, didn’t just take Howard’s jersey number, he’s also taken his nickname – TH12 has replaced DH12 in the Magic lexicon.
Even those closest to Howard during his stint in Orlando have turned on him.
Jameer Nelson, who was once Howard’s best friend, is no longer close with the big man. Their relationship started to sour when Howard repeatedly asked the Magic to upgrade the point guard position and zeroed in on Chris Paul and Deron Williams as possible targets. Howard and Nelson nearly came to blows toward the end of last season for unknown reasons and had to be separated by teammates, according to multiple sources close to the situation. Nelson was seething last week after Howard referred to the Magic as “a team full of people that nobody wanted.” Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick were also upset with Howard’s comment and fired back at the center. Howard reportedly reached out to all three players to apologize, but didn’t receive a single response. One former Magic teammate, speaking off the record, said that Howard’s former teammates are tired of his act and are simply enjoying the fact that they no longer have to deal with his drama and immaturity on a daily basis.
Howard has said that he still loves the fans that supported him in Orlando, but the feeling certainly isn’t mutual and it’ll be on display tonight. While most Magic fans have been hoping for losses to increase Orlando’s odds of winning this year’s draft lottery, they’ll be pulling for a win tonight because they desperately want to ruin Howard’s homecoming and see the Lakers miss the playoffs. During the first meeting between these teams in Los Angeles on December 2, the Magic won 113-103.
Whether the environment is as hostile as when Miami HEAT forward LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the first time after “The Decision” remains to be seen. On that night, James was booed every time he touched the ball and fans chanted “Akron Hates You.” However, the taunting didn’t slow James down; if anything, it motivated him. He knocked down his first shot – a 17-foot jumper – one minute into the game, and finished with 38 points in Miami’s 118-90 victory.
Will Howard respond with a dominant performance? Kobe Bryant reportedly told Howard to “tear ‘em up” and “just go out there and bust they ass.” However, Howard doesn’t have the killer instinct that James and Bryant possess. He has shown that he’s mentally weak and, more than anything, he wants to be liked. He may not be up for the one-on-18,846 challenge that he’ll face as soon as he emerges from the visiting locker room. Howard admitted as much to the Los Angeles Times.
“I’ve thought about it, I think it’s going to be crazy,” Howard said. “I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.”
While addressing the media on Tuesday, Howard said he didn’t know what to expect from Magic fans and repeatedly said that he still has “nothing but love” for the city and fans.
“I came here a boy and left a man,” Howard said. “It made me a better person. Thank you to all the fans who supported me. I have nothing but love for the fans here. They made me into the player that I am today and I’ll always be thankful.”
Howard received some boos during his final season in Orlando, but they were always muffled and mixed with some cheers because fans weren’t sure how to respond to the All-Star center who had one foot out of the Amway Arena door.
Tonight, there won’t be any conflicting emotions. Howard will be greeted with boos, taunts, signs, chants and expletives. This is the day that Magic fans have been anticipating and Howard has been dreading. Seven months after ‘Dwightmare’ ended, Dwight’s actual nightmare is here.
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