It was one of the most uncomfortable moments in Orlando Magic history. And Thursday on ESPN’s “The Jump,” Dwight Howard called it “the worst day of my life.”
Flashback to April of 2012: The Magic were on a four-game losing streak towards the end of what had been a disappointing and injury-plagued season. While talking to the media at morning shootaround, with cameras rolling, Stan Van Gundy confirmed a story that had been reported saying his star player Dwight Howard did indeed want him fired.
“I was told it was true by people in our management,” Van Gundy said. “So, right from the top.”
Howard then walked into the scrum and put his arm around Van Gundy. (Meaningless side note: the photo of Howard with his arm around Van Gundy was the logo for my fantasy basketball team the following season).
“Yeah, Stan. We’re not worried about that right?” Howard asked.
“That’s what I just said. We gotta be worried about winning games,” Van Gundy replied.
“What’s our main concern right now?” Howard asked.
“We have to stop Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks tonight,” Van Gundy said.
“And the New York Knicks. That’s the plan right?” Howard replied.
“That’s the plan. That what I just said,” Van Gundy said.
Howard then asked if the writer whose story broke the news about Howard asking management to fire Van Gundy was present. Van Gundy asked the media if they were done with him and left Howard to field questions about the subject.
Howard denied the story and was then told that Van Gundy had just confirmed that it was in fact true that Howard wanted Van Gundry fired.
“I said that? Who did I say that to?” Howard asked, seeming to struggle for answers in what was an extremely awkward exchange with reporters.
And long story short, Howard suffered a season-ending back injury, the Magic lost to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, Van Gundy was fired an Howard was traded.
Howard was asked about the incident while appearing on ESPN’s “The Jump” on Thursday.
We played "What were you thinking?" with @DwightHoward on #TheJump...and you KNOW we asked him about the Stan Van Gundy/Diet Coke moment— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 15, 2018
(come for Dwight being such a good sport, stay for the SVG impersonation) pic.twitter.com/Ve9TyXxM7b
”The first question is like ‘Dwight, they said you wanted to get Stan fired.’ I was like ‘Oh, my God,’ “ Howard recalled. “That was literally the worst day of my life. We had a game that night. And that was the worst game I ever played. Like, I could not hit the basket for nothing. And you would have thought -- I don’t know what was going on that night, but it was the worst ever.”
There were, of course, happier and less awkward times between the coach and star player during their time with the Magic, highlighted by their run to the 2009 NBA Finals.
”I have no issues with Stan,” Howard said. “You know, we went through that thing in Orlando, I think a lot of people blew it out of proportion. But Stan is a great guy. We had some great times together.”