In an unsurprising and yet mildly controversial move, the Orlando Magic will show a video tribute to former center Dwight Howard when Howard's Houston Rockets visit Amway Center on Wednesday. It's fair to characterize Magic fans' reaction to that news as mostly negative or, if not disapproving, then at least confused. It raises several questions, but the central one is this:
Why would the team decide to honor a player so soon after he so publicly and inelegantly forced his way to another team?
For the sake of clarity, we ought to note that these small tribute videos differ from the larger Legends Nights celebrations--whose honorees include Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, and Nick Anderson--that the team has hosted on select Friday home games throughout its silver season. Howard won't meet Magic CEO Alex Martins at center court to receive a commemorative painting. Orlando's public address announcer will not punctuate a laundry list of Howard's achievements by calling his name in the same manner he would if Howard still started at center for the Magic. The team's fans will most certainly not greet with a standing ovation Orlando's all-time leading scorer.
Instead, during a timeout on Wednesday, the Magic will play a short video, possibly 30 seconds or so, of Howard highlights. The videobard will then show a still image of Howard, and the public address announcer will thank him for his contributions to 25 years of Magic history. That's all. The Magic won't treat Howard any differently than it did New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Randy Ayers, Milwaukee Bucks center Zaza Pachulia, Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick, or any of the other former Magic players and coaches when their respective teams visited Amway Center.
These videos present their subjects in a positive light--they show highlights, after all, and express gratitude--but their real beauty lies in the fact that they empower fans to react however they like. The folks in attendance can respond to the figures they depict with indifference, as in Ayers' case; amusement, as in Pachulia's; or with raucous cheering, as in Redick's. We ought to commend the Magic for demonstrating an awareness of and an appreciation for their history.
And, yes, Howard is inextricably part of that history, whether Orlando fans like it or not. Indeed, one cannot tell the Magic's story without mentioning Howard. One can make a compelling case that no single player has had a greater impact on Orlando's NBA franchise than Howard, who not only leads the team in several all-time statistical categories but who also contributed to its most successful seasons by anchoring an NBA Finals team and another Eastern Conference Finalist. One must also acknowledge that his ascension to superstardom while the Magic endeavored to secure funding for a new venue played at least some part in securing the team's long-term future in Central Florida. To gloss over his positive contributions--to treat Howard any differently than it has any other former player or coach by not acknowledging his impact on the Magic--would do the team's fans a disservice by insulting their intelligence.
Ultimately, Orlando trusts its supporters to make their own choices about how to receive Howard, and it won't let the star center's acrimonious departure from the team detract from its year-long celebration of its past.
Is that approach not refreshing?