The standing ovation for Dwight Howard is coming.
It certainly won’t be tonight. It likely won’t be anytime soon. But we all know there will come a day when Howard returns to Orlando and Magic fans stand and cheer.
We’ve lived through messy divorces before, first with Shaquille O’Neal and later with Tracy McGrady. We booed their every move. We told them they should have never left. We rooted for them to fail.
And we ultimately forgave them and welcomed them back as if nothing happened.
Now seven years since Howard’s departure, some Magic fans are not yet at that point with Howard.
In the eyes of many in Central Florida, Howard isn’t the former No. 1 pick who ultimately led the Magic to the NBA Finals, he is someone who very publicly requested a trade and worked his way out of Orlando.
He isn’t the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, he is the player who awkwardly put his arm around Stan Van Gundy during an interview seconds after Van Gundy confirmed rumors that Howard asked management to fire him.
He isn’t the future Hall of Famer who spent his best years in a Magic uniform, he is the nomad who went on to wear seven other team’s jerseys.
Dwight Howard looking through his closet for his old Lakers jersey... pic.twitter.com/t2udRQSYJ3— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) August 23, 2019
When Howard steps onto the court in Amway Center tonight, it will be like watching your ex after they’ve been married four times and, maybe, possibly, finally found happiness. Howard, in his second stint with the Lakers, finally seems to have embraced his reduced role, become a true team guy, and found his niche on a contender that could very well take him back to the Finals.
Still, the boos will reign down the moment he checks in, the first time he touches the ball, and though it will become more faint as the game goes on, each time after that. It will continue for as long as Howard is in the league.
Dwight Howard returns to Orlando with the Lakers on Wednesday. I will...— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) December 10, 2019
Howard, though, at this stage, shouldn’t be booed or cheered in Orlando. For those looking to voice their displeasure, what would be most damaging to Howard and the ego of a former superstar, would be the sound of silence and indifference.
Howard seems to enjoy the attention in one of the few cities that still gives him superstar treatment. That’s why tweets from this morning showed Howard at Amway Center wearing an “I’m Back” sweatshirt, which certainly carries subliminal meaning when worn in Orlando, and why Howard supposedly walked from the arena to the hotel...
Dwight Howard was sporting an “I’m back” sweatshirt after shoot-around at Amway Center this morning. He said that he feels he’s in a better mental, spiritual place this season and is looking forward to seeing fans when he rematches with his former team tonight. pic.twitter.com/pYsXI9j9ZB— Julia Poe (@jpoe24601) December 11, 2019
Dwight Howard walked from the Amway Center to the team hotel. I did not hear any booing from the folks out and about in downtown #Orlando. pic.twitter.com/eeS6Q8e0Ka— Christian Bruey (@CBrueyWFTV) December 11, 2019
He doesn’t want to be ignored. And he won’t be in Orlando, because it’s not easy to watch your ex with someone else, even all these years later. Particularly when the Magic, despite making the playoffs last season, still have not fully recovered from Howard’s exit and the domino effect it started. The Magic, in every way but their winning percentage, actually won the Dwight Howard four-team trade, with a throw-in they received in the package named Nikola Vucevic becoming a first-time All-Star last season.
But the challenge of a small market team trying to replace a superstar, rush a rebuild and construct a playoff team has led to poor decisions over the years that set the team back more than Howard leaving ever did. The Magic still are not contenders, and blame for that will be taken out tonight on Howard.
And yet, despite being as scarred and bitter as any when Howard left, despite spending a lot of money to fly from New York to Orlando just to boo Howard during his first game back to Orlando in 2013 and then flying home the next morning, I’ve reached a point where I find myself silently rooting for him to play well and maybe even win a championship. Some Magic fans probably feel the same way. And, at this point, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Because the day is coming when we finally show appreciation for all that Howard did in Orlando. When all is forgiven. When we finally give him that standing ovation.
It just won’t be tonight.