The NBA’s 75th Anniversary season has brought with it plenty of debates about the league’s history. That is what the 75th Anniversary team was somewhat designed to do, adding to the legacy of the 50th Anniversary team 25 years ago.
This is something of a snapshot of the league at this moment. An honor for its past, a recognition of its present and, to some extent, the promise of its future.
Just like was the case 25 years ago, there were going to be snubs and players suddenly worrying about their legacy.
It was Dominique Wilkins 25 years ago — an error that was corrected this time around. This year, it was Dwight Howard.
The eight-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time All-NBA player had a stellar career — most of it with the Orlando Magic. But the second act to his career — essentially his entire time after leaving Orlando — was a struggle. He dealt with injuries for the first time in his career and frustrations over his attitude and seriousness about winning.
Dwight Howard built a Hall-of-Fame career in Orlando. But how he left has lingered on and left him without a home to protect his legacy.
Howard probably will dispute some of that narrative. He believes the stories people told about him throughout his career and the sour taste that left in the public and media’s eyes are what ultimately left him off the anniversary team and tarnished part of his legacy.
The public has rallied to Howard’s side. He was listed among the biggest snubs from the 75th Anniversary team. The Athletic’s rankings of the top 75 players in league history put Howard at No. 56.
Howard is getting some respect in retrospect.
But those stories remain and Howard, as he nears the end of his career and makes a third run with the Los Angeles Lakers, is at least thinking in part about his legacy and the end of his career.
Howard was indeed the toast of the league when he was in Orlando. And the way he — with the Magic escaping a lot of blame for the way they handled their side of the trade — left Orlando has defined his legacy far more than his brilliant play.
With the end of his career on his horizon, Howard should be thinking about his legacy a lot more. There is no going back and changing the things that were done or his decision to leave.
But if he wants a post-retirement home in the NBA and wants some place to uphold his playing legacy, he has to make amends with Orlando. At the end of the day, this is where he made his Hall of Fame career and where he should be celebrated.
Unfortunately, Howard’s “Dwight-mare” year left a bad taste for a lot of fans and there are some major amends to make. How he might do that will likely be difficult with several attempts to chip away at getting the return home he deserves.
If Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway can do it, certainly Dwight Howard can too.
Howard is still expressing some of the frustration he felt in the days after the 75th Anniversary team was announced, blaming these media narratives and politics for keeping him out.
“I feel as though since I left Orlando and since I left L.A. the first time and how the media depicted me in the situation, both have kinda left a bad taste in people’s mouths about who I am,” Howard said. “In their mind, they have this stigma of who they think Dwight Howard is, and it’s unfair because I’ve never even had a chance to express any of this stuff.”
“I get it: You not gonna be the good person in everyone’s story. For some people, you gonna be the bad guy. But how could I go from the greatest person in Orlando, with the greatest smile and having fun and then it started to transform? I would see articles asking if I smiled too much. Why would you wanna take away somebody’s smile? . . . I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
There are a lot of sour grapes here. And that is part of what has turned fans against him, even if he does not realize it.
No one should blame Howard for wanting out of Orlando when he did. Things had run their course and the Magic went from a perennial contender to a first-round exit very quickly. Howard correctly asserted his leverage to seek out a better situation even if he never found it.
His problem was always his indecision and lack of clarity in pursuing what he wanted — and then his waffling when it finally came for him and the team to pull the trigger.
At some point, bygones have to be bygones. Even Shaquille O’Neal, who at times went out of his way to needle Orlando even late into his career, was forgiven and welcomed home to the Amway Center.
Howard will get that treatment at some point too. But there is a lot of work that needs to go to get there. And, unlike O’Neal whose greatness was universally accepted and revered even among Magic fans, Howard does not have the all-time legacy to lean back on.
For Howard, if he is not accepted in Orlando, he will not have an NBA home anywhere.
Whether Howard feels it is right or not or understands it or not, he did wrong to the fans in Orlando — the fans that should accept and celebrate his legacy. Some acknowledgment of his errors in handling his exit would go a long way to rebuilding that bridge.
It would go a long way to softening the feelings in Orlando and softening the feelings nationwide so everyone can talk about his play and how great he was on the floor.
Magic fans have done plenty to defend Howard’s legacy. In a weird way, this snub from the 75th Anniversary team has helped rebuild a bridge between fans and Howard. And hopefully, that will one day help mend some fences between him and the team.
When Howard retires and as he prepares to enter the Hall of Fame — both the Orlando Magic’s and the Nasimith Memorial Hall of Fame — there will be more introspection and reflection on what he did on the court. That too will help mend some fences.
It may not come until retirement and he can look back at the totality of his career and how good things were in Orlando. But fans are going to remain overly skeptical until Howard takes seeks some forgiveness and takes action to reconcile the hurt he caused the city and this franchise (even if it was not all his fault).
But if Howard truly wants to protect his legacy, it can come from only one place. Howard has to take some steps to acknowledge some fault for how things ended in Orlando and work to mend fences with his fans in the City Beautiful.