The Price Of Howard’s Orlando Love

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 10, 2009
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Dwight Howard practices free throws last Friday in L.A.

Dwight Howard wants the world to know how much he loves Orlando, DisneyWorld, Sea World, Universal Studios, Tiger Woods, Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster and, of course, the paying patrons of the Amway Arena. He wants to let the fans know how important they are to him and that, given their permission, he’ll remain in the city of congested traffic for as long as they’ll have him.

Now before everyone within shouting distance of the 407 area code starts renaming their sons after the 6-foot-11-inch center with Sly Stallone shoulders and a Cheshire Cat smile, it would be wise to acknowledge that the man has promised nothing. He, in fact, put the responsibility of his future decision in the hands of others. According to Howard, he’ll remain a fixture in the community so long as the fans pack the arena and are not too critical, that ownership surrounds him with a bevy of talent to ensure continued success and, most important, so long as he doesn’t slip into a lower tax bracket.

Saying to the Orlando Sentinel, “You want to feel loved. That’s the biggest thing. I show my love to the community. I show my love to this city by stepping on the floor every night and playing as hard as I can. That’s all we want back.”

Howard wants to be loved, and athletic admiration is shown one way - with cash!

Ron Artest was not thinking about putting food on the table when he turned down the Pacers’ contract offer three years ago. Nor was Howard when he said, “My responsibility is to my family first, then the organization and then my city.” What both men meant was that they deserve a certain level of recognition, and respect in professional sports is measured in dollars and cents.

The 23-year-old has four years left on his $85 million mutual-admiration deal with the Magic, so he’s not likely to go anywhere soon. Unless the bottom falls out of the Central Florida basketball market, Howard will not be traded, nor is he likely to ask for time off to become an A&R man for an unknown vocal ensemble. But he hasn’t been shy about what he expects from his employers. Howard wants victories and rings - lots of them - and he’s not shy about making his opinions heard.

“As a franchise, we all have to take on a championship mentality,” Howard told the Sentinel. “That’s the thing I’ve been telling (general manager) Otis (Smith) and (team president) Bob (Vander Weide) that we have to have a championship mentality every day.”

Dwight Howard is far too mentally maintained to start burning through teams, and he’s proven his love of community way too many times to discount his fan crush comments as simple PR ramblings. But the draw of bigger paychecks and brighter lights is always a seductive temptress. No longer is it enough for an athlete to compete and head home. Athletes want to act, dance and design clothing, all while releasing some of the worst hip-hop albums of all time.

The Sentinel article said Howard understands how the team and city were devastated when Shaq took his traveling road show to L.A. But is it beyond comprehension to consider that the guy who borrowed the Big Aristotle’s superhero moniker could-n’t find even more inspiration from the man who, like Howard now, once cut a rather trim figure in a Magics uniform? Or perhaps the king of the Cuyahoga?

“Everybody can say that LeBron should stay in Cleveland,” Howard said. “That’s where he’s from. But you have to think about what’s best for you and your family.”

Don’t be surprised.

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