Shaquille O’Neal in his never-ending battle to disparage Orlando on his way out the door for short-changing him and supposedly turning their back on him as he sought the best contract for him. He called Orlando a “dried up little pond” in his youthful arrogance.
O’Neal was partially right. Not about the dried up part. Orlando is a little pond. And that has both its consequences and its advantages.
We have seen those consequences play out in the superstars that have been in Orlando, and ultimately left Orlando.
The question is: What marketing opportunities does Dwight Howard want that he cannot get in Orlando? In a society and a world that is commercially, as Thomas Friedman would put it, getting flatter, why can’t Howard or any other player (say even Kevin Durant) get the same kind of marketing opportunities in Orlando as they could in New York. After all, if a player is good enough, wouldn’t Madison Avenue come to them rather than them having to go to Madison Avenue?
O’Neal always seemed to have a personality bigger than Orlando. And the City Beautiful was still a growing town, known more for its theme parks and vacation spots than its growing bio-medical research industry. In fact, that bio-medical research industry did not even exist when O’Neal walked out on Orlando in 1996.
This is a much different town. But that does not mean it is the bigger market with all the eyeballs and opportunities a player like Howard wants.
It has been relatively clear from Day One that Howard had big dreams. He daringly set his goal to be the No. 1 pick in the draft as an elementary school player and high school player. He always wanted to change the world for the better. Religiously devout in high school, he seemed to be the kind of grounded player who could shine and develop well as a star. His beaming personality helped too.
When he began making All-Star appearances and especially after his foray into the slam dunk contest, Howard’s appeal began to spread beyond the tiny enclave of Orlando. After the Finals run in 2009, you saw him in national advertisements for McDonald’s and adidas and others. His international appeal grew too.
Howard had the personality to become a superstar with crossover appeal.
He never caught on the same way his contemporaries like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade seemed to catch on. Even Blake Griffin got national spots in one year of playing basketball because of his electrifying dunks. Dwight never got the love.
So when Howard says he is looking to expand his marketability, it seems like what he is really looking for is more appreciation and more respect nationally. Again, only Dwight knows what he is really thinking and what he really wants, but judging from his statements to the press throughout his career he has been deeply offended by how the national media has ignored him and criticized him throughout his career.
You can see from that that perhaps going to a bigger stage where he can get more opportunities to be seen by more eyeballs could correct that. But, the grass is not always greener, and you can also see how that will ratchet up the attention and intensity on Howard.
Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing obviously wants Howard to stay in Orlando where he is coaching, but he also gave Howard some advice about the trials and tribulations of handling the New York media. Ewing spent the majority of his career playing for the Knicks and life is different dealing with the New York media, as Ewing related to Fred Kerber of the New York Post.
“You are under a constant microscope. Every day,” Ewing said. “I told him playing up there is a lot different from playing here. The amount of media scrutiny is a lot different, for example.”
Certainly Howard may not be completely realizing the scrutiny of wherever he goes. When/if he decides to leave, Howard will be bringing with him the promise of winning a championship, with all the burdens that come with it.
That means a higher level of scrutiny.
It was the same argument you could make with LeBron James too. In Cleveland, it was always his supporting cast’s fault. In Miami, the scrutiny was higher because he brought with him the championship expectations (and all that other vitriol).
Being the free agent acquisition comes with different expectations.
If deciding to move from Orlando is partly about getting more exposure for respect or for marketing opportunities, you have to ask if those are really true.
Think about it this way: the Magic were on national television 20-plus times each of the last two years. Even this year with a considerably weaker team, Orlando was featured again on Christmas Day and have numerous national television appearances. There is no shortage of exposure to the national audience, even if criticism accompanies it.
And it is all because of Howard.
Then there is the marketing myth. Remember, Shaquille O’Neal in 1992 became the front man for Reebok and starred in movies like Kazaam and Steel from Orlando. He never really did any movies when he moved to Los Angeles — unless you count that cameo in Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered.
Then you get to Tracy McGrady. McGrady became a star in Orlando and an NBA scoring champion. More interestingly, he became the face for adidas and was a big-time shoe seller. These are all points Jarrod Rudolph of Real GM made earlier this week:
Jarrod is really right about this. If Howard really cared about the marketing aspect (and the same goes for LeBron in how it played into his decision), he would push his representatives and the companies he endorses to get him in more commercials. The fact adidas was able to feature McGrady so prominently almost 10 years ago and cannot feature Howard the same way is either a massive failure on addidas’ part or Howard’s decision not to be in many national ad campaigns.
All this suggests that the marketing aspect of this decision is not as important as might be led to believe.
While that might be true, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are third parties pulling some strings. Or at least trying to.
Many people wondered if winning was really what mattered to Dwight Howard, why would he not want to try and work his way to Chicago and play with Derrick Rose? It might very well be the shoes, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported:
“[A]s one high-ranking sneaker executive says, ‘Adidas simply cannot have its two signature players on the same team in the same market. . . . Derrick is the face of that market, owns that market, and Adidas can’t possibly have maximum bang for its buck with Dwight there.
“It serves Adidas no purpose. They need them as rivals in competing markets.’
“Howard knows this, too. He has an Adidas renewal on deck in the next year, and Los Angeles and Brooklyn guarantee him maximum money. The shoes aren’t the sole reason, but it’s a reality. In an NBA where the owners want the superstars worth $50 million and more to make far less than market value, it’s hard to imagine you’ll get them to take far less on endorsements.”
Theoretically still, there are more dollars to be made in those super large markets. There are more events they can attend, more commercials that can be shot. It is more an issue of access than eyeballs. Again, if adidas or any of the other companies Dwight endorses were serious about using Howard as a main advertiser, they would be coming to him in Orlando and not waiting or pushing him to come to them.
The marketing or exposure aspect of What Dwight Wants might be a complete myth. It might simply be a pretense to explain a departure.
It will not be the reason Dwight leaves. If Howard really wanted the marketing opportunities his star status should earn him, he would push his representatives to bring the marketing opportunities to him in Orlando (or wherever he wants to be).
If being liked and being a superstar is what mattered to him most, there would be little difference between Orlando and Los Angeles or New York. Howard would be able to get the world to come to him.