Despite knowing them from afar, sports fans get attached to their favorite players. That can lead to a great deal of heartache when a star is traded or, even more painfully, decides to leave on their own accord. That’s exactly what happened in 2012, when Dwight Howard forced his way out of the Orlando Magic organization.
On Wednesday night, however, Howard returned to the scene of the crime. Before the game, though, he had an unusual message for the fans: leaving town was necessary, but he was sorry for departing on such bad terms.
Dwight Howard’s time with the Orlando Magic
In the early 2000s, Dwight Howard exploded onto the high school basketball landscape. The young forward skills were so apparent that he decided to skip college entirely and jump directly into the NBA draft. The Orlando Magic selected him first overall, hoping to land a franchise player who would play in Florida for years to come.
Despite some early struggles—the Magic didn’t initially utilize Howard as a center—the young player’s potential. Howard finished third in Rookie of the Year voting but would only improve as he continued to physically develop and adjust to the NBA game. After working with Brian Hill and moving into the center position, Howard quickly became a star, carrying Orlando to the NBA Finals and winning the three Defensive Player of the Year Awards. At that point, it seemed like he could do no wrong.
Thing weren’t rosy forever, though. During the 2011-12 season, Dwight Howard requested a trade; he said that if the Magic didn’t comply, he would simply leave town in free agency. He later rescinded the request, saying that he was happy to stay if Orlando tried to compete for an NBA championship. The damage was already done. After some drama around the trade deadline and an attempt to get head coach Stan Van Gundy fired, Howard eventually got his wish; in the summer of 2012, the Magic traded him to the Lakers.
Building bridges with Orlando Magic Fans
On Wednesday, December 11, Dwight Howard returned to Orlando. While most of the tension had dissipated since 2012, the center reached out to fans before the game.
“I got blessed to come back and play with the Lakers, and I’m in a really good situation,” Howard told reporters. “I’m pretty sure there were a lot of people here who were super hurt and disappointed that I left. And I’m sorry for that. You know, I apologize if they felt that way.”
Howard, however, went on to explain that he felt the move away from Orlando was necessary. “I never would have been the person I am today if I would have stayed here,” he explained. “So I’m very thankful that everything that has transpired has transpired and it’s made me the best version of Dwight Howard. I never thought this would happen. So, I’m happy that it happened. I know that it broke a lot of people’s hearts. It broke my heart, too. But, man, at the end of the day, I’m free. I feel really good.”
A new, mature Dwight Howard is thriving with the Lakers
While no one ever wants to fall from grace, Dwight Howard experienced that first hand, going from a first overall pick to the waiver wire. As the center said, however, everything worked out for the best. He’s seemingly shed his ego and become a more mature person; he’s now a role player on the Lakers and content with doing his part to help the team. That personal and professional growth go hand in hand.
“I was super bitter at a lot of the things that transpired behind closed doors that none of the Magic fans or people really know about,” the center explained. “But I did have a lot of bitterness in my heart towards the organization and even the fans of how they treated me when I came back. But I let it go. I was super bitter, but I let it go. And by letting it go, it just dropped all the weight that I had and it just made me a better person.”
“I have nothing to prove to nobody,” Howard continued. “I’ve done an amazing job in my career so far, so I’m not out here trying to prove how many points I can score or trying to prove I’m Dwight Howard. I know who I am, know who I represent and know what this team needs in me for us to win.”