Dwight Howard is the center of attention. He is the unofficial host of All-Star Weekend and the next “it” free agent. The questions have followed Howard everywhere he goes and so it is no surprise the media wanted to know where Dwight stood when it came to his future.
Dwight Howard would have none of that. The rumors may continue to swirl… they may be true or not. The trade may be imminent… or not. But Howard wanted to make it perfectly clear, February 24-26 is not about his uncertain future. Instead, it is about Orlando — his town, our town.
“The situation right now is All-Star Weekend,” Dwight Howard said. “That is the only thing that matters right now. This is the moment, this is All-Star Weekend, we’re going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy ourselves. All that stuff can go on after All-Star Weekend. For right now, my focus is on having a great time and being a great host to all these great players that you see around us.
“We’re not going to talk about it [the trade rumors] right now.”
That didn’t stop the media members from continuing to poke and prod for any hint of where he might stand. That wouldn’t stop it. Reporters after all are doing their jobs in doing that. But Howard was not giving an inch and not wearing down on that subject.
Instead, he wants All-Star Weekend to be a reflection of how far the city has come and what this event means to the city. It is a celebration of his town and a chance for Dwight to show off his town.
That was a phrase he used repeatedly during his media availability Friday. In turning away the questions about his future, he re-iterated Orlando is his home. It is where he grew up as a player and where he plans to continue to live.
“What we have accomplished as an organization, as a city and as a team — we’ve made it to the Finals, we’ve had some great years,” Howard said. “This is good to have All-Star Weekend in Orlando. Just happy that it’s here. People get to really see our city. The last time we had hype like this was during the Finals. And I just saw how the city changed throughout the Finals.”
Howard noted Saturday before All-Star practice that he had never seen Orlando “like this” before. Just go Downtown at night, Howard says, to see the difference. Suffice it to say, Orlando is not always rated PG.
This weekend has always been about Orlando coming out of its shell a bit and getting that showcase that Howard consistently talks about in his media availabilities to this point.
Right now, the biggest stress on his life is his inability to get any sleep — duties of a host are busy — and dealing with the media. That stuff is normal though. And it is not going to change. Not while the trade request remains and Howard’s future remains completely uncertain.
The lesson to take from Howard’s response this weekend is to realize Howard does love Orlando. He is trying to make that clear. He said when fans talk to him on the street and plead with him to stay, he acknowledges them kindly no matter what. Howard said most fans have said they will support him no matter his decision.
And the one thing Howard has continued to make clear is that he loves the city and the fans in Orlando. The fans have shown him nothing but love and he is very appreciative of that.
Howard said this city means a lot to him.
“Despite everything that’s going on, I’ve never lost any love for this city,” Howard said Saturday before All-Star practice. “Like I said, I love this city from the bottom of my heart. I do love this city for all the things they’ve done for me and for me being in the community and doing as much as I can for this city. And it goes beyond basketball.”
It definitely seems to go beyond basketball. And his decision to request a trade seems to be a purely basketball and business decision. It is not personal to Orlando by any stretch.
Even with all the apparent awkwardness, Howard continues to step up in his role as an ambassador of the franchise and of the city. That is not going to change any time soon.
Of course, if Dwight leaves Orlando, it is yet to be seen how he will interact with his adopted home town of Orlando.
For now, though, the future is a weekend away. This weekend is about celebrating Orlando.