Dwight Howard and the Magical Land of Unreasonable Doubt

I personally believe Stan Van Gundy is a good coach. Stuff happens…

Do you remember the stories of John Elway, Eli Manning and Danny Ainge? Three rebels forcing their way out of organizations they didn’t want to play for. Bad public relations followed but none of the three became known for disaffected moments and seemed to change public perception before ultimately winning championships with their new teams. In Manning and Elway’s case, they rose to eminence and Ainge, for all it’s worth, isn’t doing so bad himself. Different circumstances all around but you should get the idea. Now, it’s Dwight Howard’s turn. He has become the hated and most think it’s of his own doing. How will this turn out? Will Dwight Howard remain a fan favorite…particularly with the kids…or will his reputation be forever stained even if he wins a championship with the Magic, elsewhere or not?

When Dwight Howard comes to town, I look forward to how he transforms a Wells Fargo Arena pregame bustling with professional action into a virtual arcade. Everything is his toy. He’s nothing but a big kid living the dream. Smiles are everywhere. He doesn’t mind talking to media…win or lose…and is a big hit for wide eyed fans of every hue hoping for once to get whatever they bought to the game signed by one of the top athletes in sports. Those who have previously attended Orlando Magic games anywhere in the country are especially excited because they fully understand Dwight Howard pays attention to them and it’s genuine. Howard led the NBA in fan balloting for this year’s All Star Game in Orlando despite the drama swirling regarding his contract status and also where he could potentially play next.

There’s something to be said for that.

I’ve seen Dwight Howard hang out in arenas with kids post game every time I’ve covered a game the Magic were playing. Bad guys don’t do that. Hell…good guys don’t do that for the most part. He is one of the few people in sports knowing a pronounced relationship with kids is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

A pic I took on April 7th. His last game. This is nothing fake with Dwight…

Do you really think Dwight Howard is a bad guy? Yes, he did admit to Hannah Storm he wanted Stan Van Gundy fired. Do you or have you called out your boss once or five times because of momentary disagreement (Van Gundy alludes to this in the video below) and had a beer with that same boss later? Van Gundy is a good coach and has been through this before with Shaq. He’s accomplished a lot in the NBA. He’ll be fine even if he isn’t back. Do you believe the latest rumor that Dwight called Rich DeVoss and said he would no longer play for Van Gundy despite knowledge his season will be effectively ended (playoffs and Olympics as well) after electing to have surgery on a herniated disc? How does that even begin to make sense? Why would that call be made when decisions of his physical health lay in the balance?

Dwight Howard has made mistakes but the heat should be applied to all sides. In no way should it have been made public that Dwight wanted Van Gundy out of there and the Magic will have to deal with the repercussions as an organization. How many stories have you read where the Orlando Magic organization is also at fault for their handling of this drama?

Keep in mind, the Orlando Magic is a business. Season ticket holders will be coddled and stroked to believe the team will still be relevant even in a state of turmoil. How many pros can you name that left town (or thought of leaving) on their own accord and not been somehow ripped in the press?

We tend to not question the team as if teams truly represent the people. Maybe it’s because the players are the focus but that myopic thought distorts reality.

Dwight is still a member of the Orlando Magic. He decided to stick around one more year before exploring his options. Teams do this all the time. We act as if management is above reproach and these situations should only fall at the feet of the players. That’s not realistic. What if he does sign an extension?

The Dwight Howard saga…at least for this season…has ended abruptly and the 8 year vet is scheduled to have, again, season ending surgery on a herniated disc. It appears the court of public opinion has turned on Dwight and he’s become this year’s bad guy as if he’s committed a crime against humanity. Now that the surgery has been announced, does this change your perception of Dwight?

Can he truly be called a quitter? His back has been injured since March. I noticed he’s not as ripped as usual. I’m sure that across the league…because of the lockout…many players aren’t lifting in a normal sense, but in Dwight’s case, I’m sure he’s not lifting as much because of his back.

On this day, there was a play before halftime. Howard, defending an Andre Iguodala jumper, appeared to re-injure his back.

He ended the game with 20 points, 22 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks in the 88-82 victory. He shot 4-14 from the field, 12-18 from the line and had two blocks.

After the Van Gundy/Howard presser spectacle, I did question how Dwight had 8 points and 8 boards in that game of all games. Given the evidence we now know of his injury, I was wrong for doing so.

Not the first time I’ve been hard on Dwight. I expect superhuman things of him just like any other fan of the game based on his size and strength.  He has one of the best big men to ever play the game as a coach in Patrick Ewing at his disposal. The staples of Ewing’s game should be apparent in Dwight’s at this point (foul line jumper, free throw prowess) but are not. I have seen a considerable improvement with his left hand around the basket. Seeking Dream’s influence means the intent on developing his game is apparent.

Post-game, it was obvious in Dwight’s slow movements he was in pain. I particularly noticed this as he grimaced putting on his tie.

Dwight is always fun in the locker room. If you engage him on or off the record, you will be entertained. After the Magic victory, Philly basketball historical gold Sonny Hill is sitting between Jameer Nelson (St. Joes and Chester High legend) and Dwight. Sonny is commenting on Dwight’s clothing and specifically the shine on Howard’s shoes. Important only because it lightened the moment because the media is standing around waiting for Dwight being this is the game after that awkward aforementioned presser. Game questions are asked and answered before I go in:

“Dwight what are you learning about this season…the grind of this season…and everything else that’s going on?”

“It’s tough but I’m a warrior. I’m a fighter. We’ll find a way to get through it all, still keep my head high, keep smiling and go out there and have fun every night.”

Dwight was then asked to explain the pain of back spasms: “It’s the most pain I’ve been in since I’ve been in the league. It’s very hard to do a lot of different things on the court…moves…just everything. It’s very tough. Like I’ve said…regardless of how many points I’ve got I would never quit on my team. I would never quit on my coach. I would never quit on anything. I’m not a quitter. That’s just in me to play hard every night. Doesn’t matter about points. I’ve been hurt and I’ve been fighting through it. That’s the only thing I know what to do…is fight through it.

Which gave me an in to ask of how he is perceived in all of this: “Dwight your image has taken a hit. I’ve covered you for years and you’ve never been a bad guy.”

Dwight responds: “I’m not a bad guy. You know regardless of whatever’s being said, and how people want to portray me, I’m still going to be who I am. I’m the same person. I’ve never been a bad guy my whole life. You know…it happens. You know? Everyone goes through trials and tribulations and whatever. This is what makes you and I’m not gonna let it break me. I know people are going to say this and say that about me, but I’m going to continue to go out there and have fun and lead my team.”

I continue: “What do you want to say to the fans?”

Dwight looks at me like we’re the only people in the room and answers: “Just understand…you hear things and read things…until you get to know a person don’t judge. I’ve never judged anybody. You shouldn’t judge me by what other people are saying about me. People are seeing me be who I am for eight years. That’s not going to change regardless of what’s being said. I’m going to continue to be who I am. I’ve never been cocky. I’ve never been a butt hole to anybody. I’ve been the same guy. You can go around to anyone in the locker room that knows me and I’ve always been the same person.”

Dwight finishes up and heads out to greet the remaining fans in the arena. Many fans linger when the Magic is in town because of area hero Jameer Nelson, who got the biggest pregame crowd response from either team. I snapped two pics because the fans were so excited and I thought it was relevant.

Another pic I took simply to provide evidence of what Dwight is truly about…

Most critics of pros say they aren’t accessible to fans (in part). You don’t hear of anything criminal with Howard’s name attached. If this is an athlete who does the right thing, why are folks jumping off cliffs simply to disparage his character?

“It hurts [emotionally],” Howard told ESPN’s Chris Broussard about having surgery. “That’s the first thing — it hurts. And then with people saying and thinking I’m quitting on my team. This is a real issue. I tried to play through it, and it just made my back worse.”

A quitter doesn’t do that folks. Take what you want from this piece but I have to admit all this hoopla over one player for whatever reason is ridiculous. There are a lot of things we should be focusing on besides what is going on in Dwight Howard’s life. Has the NBA season been that bad that we are? I don’t think so. I think because of what went down with LeBron James fans and media are having a case of post traumatic stress syndrome. In this perceived time of financial difficulty, do we resent the players or the money pro athletes make? Think hard about that question. When fans and media protect the money of professional sports franchises as if it is their own I cringe. Dwight Howard is the holder of his talent and should by all means think about his future because it’s his and only his. This situation will age Dwight and hopefully he will learn in the positive but to assume every professional athlete should be pedantic in contract situations just because of the media and fans who trust everything the media reports is ridiculous. Rational thought is out the window as if no one has an agenda but the players.

I am no player sycophant but I do understand their need to have a voice some want to dismiss and allow them to express themselves. I call it based on what I’m exposed to. I don’t make assumptions on athletes because I have the access to get out there and see it for my own eyes. It’s all in the approach. I wouldn’t write this of a bad guy.

It would be illogical in any era to label Howard a malcontent. He’s affable and doesn’t have the ego ostentatious as some are describing. Look people, Dwight Howard is one of the good guys. It’s as simple as that. Again, I think he will be the first to tell you, he has made his fair share of mistakes in all of this. No one is above criticism and because of all that has happened this year in Orlando, it’s conceivable Howard, Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith will not be a part of the Orlando Magic organization in 2013. Because the playoffs are around the corner and the Magic will probably be out early mainly because of Howard’s absence, the mood in Orlando will be melancholy at best. I’m sure most are numb by now in fact. If Dwight, in particular, is gone, we can speculate where the blame should be placed but so what. What difference does that make? If Dwight played his last game for the Magic that night in Philly, it would be amazing to think the city of Orlando would have lost two big men who have stamped their name on their respective eras. Will the city recover or is that too big of a question to ask in the magical land of unreasonable doubt?

7 Responses to “Dwight Howard and the Magical Land of Unreasonable Doubt”

  1. TheLastPoet says:

    Man..cot-damn.. I wish you had access to espn.com, yahoo, sb nation.. SOMETHING! This is fantastic and needs to be much more widely read!

  2. Thanks sir. Could have written this on April 7th, but I had to gauge the reaction for history’s sake.

  3. D.N. says:

    Wonderful perspective. You already know I agree. I can name the players that do that for the kids like DH does.. We both know who they are. Wonderful to read first thing in the morning.

  4. San Dova says:

    This is great. You made some great points. I just composed a piece that differed greatly with this perspective, but I can appreciate this.

    I think there’s a number of things going on. One thing is that Dwight’s very fearful of rejection by the city and fans. That’s one reason that he didn’t do the “max-plus” short-term contract like LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh did; he didn’t want to explore because of those kind of questions.

    Two, the Magic have been very reasonable about Dwight, and unlike the Cleveland Cavs, have been forthright about their joyful desire to appease Dwight without being complete pushovers. They understand that he wants more and they want more, when it comes to team success, but his mixed signals are the reason why the media have been on him in the way that they have been.

    If Dwight really wants to stand up for himself, he’ll back what he’s said, but even more, if he could’ve told the Magic that he intends to pursue free agency and that he would still allow them to be an option as a place he would sign with, but instead, he’s allowed “whatever is whatever” to be his mantra which hints toward malaise, while simultaneously beefing with his coach and leaving his teammates to question his desire to win the season.

    I believe he’s still growing and requires further maturation, which is a good thing, but his methodology has been poor. He had the opportunity to declare his intentions to exercise free agency and still be vocal about his serious intentions to keep Orlando as a major option for his basketball future, but been he’s vague and less than stand-up.

    He’s become more of a Basketball Wife than his baby’s mother, Royce.

  5. Temple3 says:

    I’m so glad that you called out the insanity of Howard making a call with his season effectively over. Absurd.

    Brilliant stuff — as usual.

  6. […] Dwight Howard and The Magical Land of Unreasonable Doubt, Michael Tillery, The Starting Five “How many stories have you read where the Orlando Magic organization is also at fault for their handling of this drama? Keep in mind, the Orlando Magic is a business. Season ticket holders will be coddled and stroked to believe the team will still be relevant even in a state of turmoil. How many pros can you name that left town (or thought of leaving) on their own accord and not been somehow ripped in the press? We tend to not question the team as if teams truly represent the people. Maybe it’s because the players are the focus but that myopic thought distorts reality.” […]

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