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Magic tradition sadly continues

Howard returns to boos, following Shaq, Penny, T-Mac, Hill

Brian Schmitz

Magic Insider

11:14 PM EDT, March 12, 2013

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There was plenty of Hack-A-Howard, even more Hate-A-Howard.

The entire night was just another sad, bittersweet reminder of the Magic's legacy.

For the city of Orlando. For the franchise and its fans. And for Dwight Howard, the guest of dishonor.

The leather-lunged booing, caustic commentary and contentious Dwightmosphere turned Amway Center into a venting session first and a sporting event second.

These engagements merely have become an embarrassing tradition for the Magic and the faithful, even if some circumstances are out of their control.

They lead the NBA in this unfortunate ritual: Their once-beloved superstars return to the city of Orlando for the first time, only to be buried in boos and belligerence.

Shaq, Penny, T-Mac, Grant Hill and now Dwight have all had similar toxic reunions here.

A fan shouted "Dwight you (stink)" -- during the National Anthem. A little kid wearing an old Howard No. 12 jersey with a "C" taped over the "H" to spell "Coward." A young lady waving a sign that read, "Traitor Just Like Shaq."

Like Shaq, there was Howard in Laker colors jawing at the Magic bench, exchanging words with injured Glen "Big Baby" Davis, one of the few holdovers from the Dwight era.

All these antics … it's all a bad joke by now, isn't it?

And a re-run, to boot.

Anybody tired of this routine?

"I have nothing but love for the fans here," Howard said after Wednesday morning's shootaround, although the speaker could have been Shaq, Penny or T-Mac. "They treated me well. It didn't end right. It didn't end the way we all wanted it to end, but I'm in a better place and everybody has to move on."

A better place? Heaven -- or Hollywood? There's the complimentary zinger from an alumnus during old home week, as if Dwight's posting a season-high in points in leading L.A.'s 106-97 win wasn't enough.

Actually, maybe there were fans present who had been through the drill before with the Magic's other relocated stars. Or they were worn out after experiencing the never-ending Dwight saga last season.

"As the game wore on, it seemed like another game," Arron Afflalo said.

Perhaps fans have accepted the fact that this is just the way it is when you root for the Magic: You lose a hall-of-fame caliber star every five years, on average.

The intensity wasn't as loud or vicious as when Shaq came back in 1998 at old Amway Arena.

Howard ran out into the boos, and booed, too, mocking the fans before tip-off. He then jogged their memories and showed them what they'll miss for the next decade.

Howard put the Magic through the ringer – and the Magic tried to embarrass him as well. They sent his notorious free-throw form to the free-throw line by fouling intentionally – and it backfired.

Dwight made 16-of-20 in that situation, another zinger on a ridiculously satisfying 39-point, 16-rebound night. He leveled the city again, looking "like the old Dwight," said center Nik Vucevic, dwarfed by Dwight all game.

These monotonous nights of all-star ghosts from the Magic's past revisiting Orlando to make a point -- or 39 --- must end.

Easier said than done, sure, but their No. 1 goal now must be to find a Dwayne Wade, a Tim Duncan, a Dirk Nowitzki.

That's the pressure on them now. General Manager Rob Hennigan's key message is "sustainability." Players staying with their original teams for their careers are rare, but no club needs a lifer more than Orlando.

The worst part of Hate-A-Howard Night?

It's coming back to be the biggest game on their schedule for another season, certainly two, hopefully no more than three.

The Magic need to become a contender to turn Dwight's annual visit into a sidebar story.

bschmitz@tribune.com.