Dwight Howard this week hit out about his former Orlando Magic teammates, labeling them people that ‘nobody wanted‘. The statement understandably drew ire from many of his former Magic teammates, with Rashard Lewis the most vocal of them all. The now-Heat forward had some words to say about the situation to the Orlando Sentinel’s Brian Schmitz, calling Howard’s comments “disrespectful” and included the zinger, “Hell, look at the banners hanging in the stands. They don’t say Dwight Howard on them…“. Lewis wasn’t the only one to throw barbs towards his ex-teammate, with former friend and current Orlando guard Jameer Nelson joining in and newly ex-Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick sending some biting words from Milwaukee. He’s attempted to justify the words, insisting they were taken out of context. As per to the Daily News’ Mark Medina, Howard defended himself following the Lakers’ stirring win over the Hornets:
“My statement was to say the team we played with in Orlando were the underdogs. Everybody overlooked us the time I was there in Orlando. I hated that. We hated that. We all thrived off that. My comments were never said to be disrespectful to those guys. They were my teammates for years. They’ve helped me become the player I am today.”
There has been more newspaper ink and blog posts dedicated to Dwight Howard in the past twenty-four months than perhaps any athlete in the NBA this decade not named LeBron James. Howard has the potent combination of star power, irrationality and dramatic twists in his story to make one of the easiest and deepest to write about, criticize, analyse and in most cases, mutually cringe at. This ‘misunderstanding’ is one of the most definitive examples of the sheer ineptitude of Dwight Howard and his inability to engage with reality. Whether he likes it or not, whether he thinks it’s fair or not, the media is going to look at how they can turn his comments into a major story. He’s even acknowledged this, following up on his explanation by confessing, “I know we’re going back to Orlando and they’re trying to stir up as much stuff as they can.”
Let’s give Dwight Howard the benefit of the doubt in this instance, let’s assume that surely no one would be boneheaded enough to so openly be irrationally critical of his ex-teammates like Howard appeared to be. He’s not denying he labelled his teammates “people that nobody wanted”. There wasn’t anything he claims was added onto that phrase, not something like ‘that nobody wanted…to believe in’ or ‘nobody wanted to sign to big deals’…nope, just some guys ‘that nobody wanted’. Even if he truly meant that he led a band of brilliant underdogs, it’s undeniable that he chose his words terribly. The phrase not only sounds bad, but has some pretty harsh connotations. By saying nobody wanted them, even if they were truly wonderful and great in his eyes, Howard’s hinting that teams around the league weren’t blowing up Orlando’s phones to try and pry many Magic’s players from them. All the while, he spent the past twelve months being publicly courted by the Nets, Mavericks, Rockets and Lakers. The point is, his intention isn’t really important anymore – it’s his inability to accept responsibility for his words and watch his use of language, knowing the media is seeking for reasons to shame him even further.
It’s been almost six months since he’s been traded to Los Angeles, and over eighteen months since he became the perennial top story in league rumors. Howard knows the microscope he’s under, and he’s had time to get used to it. It’s a little cold to say from an outsiders perspective, but it’s a reality that all the star players in the league must grow accustomed to. LeBron James learned, Kevin Durant is learning (though he, by nature, says the right things anyway) and Kobe…well, he never hid the fact he doesn’t care if he’s hated.
This concept of acknowledging the problem (that the media wants to stir up trouble), yet completely neglecting the problem (continuing to say stupid things) is not a new thing for Dwight Howard. He acknowledged the rumors about his future in Orlando were damaging for the team and his coach, so he opted in and proceeded to get his coach fired and continue trying to get out of Orlando. Most recently, he acknowledged that his exorbitant consumption of candy was hindering his conditioning and contributing to his sluggish play. It’s taken him until over 60 games into a disastrous season to do something about it, continuing the unhealthy habits while he watched Kobe Bryant half-kill himself and his team become a global punchline through the first half of the season.
The Lakers face an uncertain future if they let one of the league’s elite Centers walk this off-season, but they can hardly feel comfortable about their coming years if they lock him in as the future of the franchise. Howard still fails to see that the biggest barrier between himself and today’s elite lies not on what he does on the court, but his attitude off of it. Despite seeing his public reputation smeared beyond recognition, his team underwhelm to a historic degree and his supporters dwindle to few and far between, it seems Dwight Howard still doesn’t see what he’s doing wrong; and that’s perhaps why he’s quickly becoming a person that nobody wants.