Magic fans should give Dwight a standing ovation

Let him know the love he left behind

Dwight Howard's ex-Orlando Magic teammates channel Cee-Lo Green to deliver a message for their departed Superman and the hated Los Angeles Lakers. Produced by Rich Pope, Sean Pitts and Todd Stewart. Vocals by Len Xiang, Jamaal K. Solomon and Don Hawkins.

Give him a standing "O."

A raucous, roaring, deafening, delirious standing ovation.

This is how the greatest player in Magic history should be greeted Tuesday when he makes his return to Orlando with his new girlfriend — the Los Angeles Lakers.

This is the only way to crystallize in Dwight Howard's mind what he probably has already figured out: That he made the most monumental mistake he could ever imagine when he left the only fan base that will ever truly love him to become Kobe's designated sock puppet in Los Angeles.

Oh, sure, if anybody deserves to be booed Tuesday night, it is Dwight, whose arrogance and ego wrecked a franchise, cost people their jobs and ruined his legacy. He has belittled everybody who ever embraced him in Orlando — his fans, coach, GM, ownership, even his former teammates. But what good will booing do except maybe making you feel better for a few minutes? If you cheer him — really cheer him — it will make him feel rotten for the rest of his career.

Because such a reaction will cement what has become abundantly clear to everybody outside Dwight's inner circle of yes-men and sycophants. It will show Dwight that the only reason the grass was greener on the other side is because it was fertilized with a bunch of manure — as in the manure his agent and other advisers fed him about leaving Orlando.

"I think Dwight thought he wanted a big market, but I think what he's realizing is that he needs a smaller environment where the fans and media overlook whatever weaknesses he has," ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, brother of Stan, told me the other day. "He had it great in Orlando, and I think only after you leave do you realize just how good you had it. Unfortunately, you can't go back home again.

"Those years in Orlando, you could have made the case that no one was more valuable to a team than Dwight Howard was to the Magic. That guy could have been the MVP a couple of times and should have gotten stronger consideration for what he accomplished. For whatever reason, I think he's lost his way."

Remember the reasons Dwight supposedly wanted to leave Orlando — because he wanted a larger market so he could promote his brand, get more positive exposure, become a bigger international star? Except just the opposite has happened. He has trashed his brand, been flooded with negative publicity and his star is falling like a dead meteor.

Incredibly, since he started throwing temper tantrums about wanting out of Orlando, he has gone from one of the most beloved superstars in all of sports to perhaps the most despised. He has gone from the Superman of the East to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Do you think the notion that he blew it big-time has penetrated Dwight's enormous ego yet? Do you think he realizes he was bigger in Orlando than he will ever be anywhere else? Do you think he now understands that in today's digitally and electronically compressed world that he was a global icon right here in Central Florida?

He set an NBA record with more than 3 million all-star votes right here in Orlando.

He was the league's MVP runner-up right here in Orlando.

He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year three straight times right here in Orlando.

He had all the national endorsements — Gatorade, adidas, McDonald's, T-Mobile and Call of Duty (video game) — right here in Orlando.

He made movies, music CDs and appeared on Leno and Letterman right here in Orlando.

He became a Twitter phenom and compiled nearly 3 million followers right here in Orlando.

Mostly, though, he was in a place he could call home. This was his team, his city, his arena, his world. Now he's just another hated hired gun on Team Kobe.

Magic owner Rich DeVos warned Howard that if he left Orlando, he would leave the adulation behind and be perceived differently in a new town. "When you're young, sometimes you don't realize that," DeVos said. "The loyalty you develop in a community is always remembered. But if you leave, you don't pick it up in the next town. It's not an add-on. You lose what you had."

On Tuesday night, fans should let Dwight Howard know what he had in Orlando.

He had his good name and his great reputation.

He had admiration and respect.

Mostly, though, he had the love and loyalty from his team and his town.

Give him a standing "O."

A raucous, roaring, deafening, delirious standing ovation.

Nothing could possibly hurt him more. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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