Dwight Howard: Detailing 11 off-the-Court Steps That Destroyed His Reputation
Dwight Howard's image has been severely tarnished over the past couple of seasons. It didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen from any one event.
A gregarious, approachable and genuinely funny guy with a strong philanthropic track-record, Howard was one of the NBA's most popular figures from 2004 until about 2010.
By making them relevant again, and even bringing the Magic back to the NBA Finals in 2009, Howard nearly did just that.
Yet today Howard is arguably more reviled than LeBron James. He's now routinely described as a petulant, spoiled and selfish traitor who threw his coach, team and city under the bus.
Unlike James however, there was no "Decision" that changed our perception overnight. Instead, Dwight's "nice-guy" image has been cracking slowly over the past couple of years.
That it all came crumbling down now is due to a process, rather than any singular moment or demand.
Circa 2008: Stealing the "Superman" Nickname
No one REALLY knows just when Howard began calling himself "Superman." He officially staked his claim once donning the cape for his NBA Slam Dunk Competition win in 2008.
What at first seemed like an homage to former Orlando Magic great Shaquille O'Neal quickly turned into a nasty war of words. Shaq has repeatedly called out Howard for the moniker theft, claiming that Dwight has yet to achieve the necessary career credential clout.
Howard has fired back more than once, lately reminding Shaq that, "you can't talk trash if you don't play anymore."
While this is all childish stuff, the fact that Dwight turned this from homage into a feud was slightly troubling. It's just a dumb nickname, but why did he have to take the same one as the last major star who left the Magic high and dry?
When it's all said and done, these two ARE a lot alike. Howard will leave Orlando with the same single Finals appearance/loss and bad feelings that Shaq did.
May 12, 2009: Howard Questions Van Gundy After Game 5 Playoff Loss
Long before their rift became a running daily news story, Dwight Howard fired his first shot at Stan Van Gundy.
Following a crushing 2009 playoff loss to the Boston Celtics, Howard had this to say in postgame:
"Offensively I have to get the ball... I don't think you are going to win a lot of games when your post player only gets 10 shots. It's tough to get yourself going and get a lot of touches without a lot of shots. We have to do a better job with that...
"I'm not going to get up here and bash or say anything about what should happen, but I will say it's tough to win when all season long you play inside-out and you trust one of the people who got you off to a good season. I think I'm capable of scoring in the post, but I don't think 10 shots is enough.
"Our coach has to recognize that when he has a certain group out there and they are getting the job done we have to leave those guys on the floor. We're going to make mistakes, but I think you have to go with what works."
Howard's comments were actually quite apt, and Stan Van Gundy later admitted that much during his own conference with the press. However, the fact that SVG mentioned this in postgame means he likely also took the blame in front of his players once in the locker room.
Yet Dwight still brought it out to the media.
While the Magic would rebound from this moment and go on to win the series and the East, it showed that both Howard and Van Gundy were not afraid to openly question one another in front of everyone.
They would do A LOT more of that in the years to come.
December 2009: Howard Sues Former Girlfriend for Defamation
Dwight Howard sued his ex-girlfriend, a former Orlando Magic dancer named Royce Reed, for more than $9 million back in 2009.
The defamation suit claimed that she had broken a written agreement not to discuss their relationship publicly with ANYONE. What's more, she was not allowed to post any images of the son, Braylon, whom they conceived together.
According to the legal arrangement, Reed would be fined $500 for every infraction. Along with becoming a cast member of VH1's "Basketball Wives," she instead routinely posted pictures and comments via Twitter, Facebook and websites.
Among other things, Howard sued her per remark posted online multiplied by the 17,410 times they had been viewed.
At the time, it seemed that the public sided with Dwight and the need for privacy. Howard won the lawsuit, though he had trouble collecting even the downgraded settlement.
Yet, the comments Reed made about him being a dead-beat dad were increasingly disturbing.
In time, it became easy to wonder just what lengths Howard would go to protect his then-spotless "nice guy" image, and why he had to work so hard to hide even mentioning the opposite.
December 2011: Dwight's First Trade Demands Become Public
Just as the NBA lockout was coming to a close, Dwight Howard's frustration with the Orlando Magic became public.
Apparently fed up with the Magic's near-contender status and a perceived waning influence with GM Otis Smith and Coach Stan Van Gundy, Howard named the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and then New Jersey Nets as his preferred destinations.
Having the ability to opt-out of his contract at the end of the season, Howard in essence had a no trade clause at his disposal. He threatened not to re-sign with any other team besides those three, thereby limiting interest.
While he eventually softened his stance and backed off on his demands, the die was officially cast.
February 2012: Howard Allegedly Refuses Trade to L.A. Lakers
As the trade deadline approached, the logical destination for Dwight was the Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Orlando Magic were toeing a hard line by demanding both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, it seemed as if the Lakers were about to cave. Then, the Magic softened their stance, supposedly asking for just Bynum in return.
Instead, the deal fell apart. Reports surfaced that it was Howard who had pulled the plug by intimating that he would not re-sign with L.A. if traded there.
Variations on the story abound, but Howard apparently balked at playing with the Lakers once Kobe Bryant let him know he'd be third on the pecking order behind himself and Pau Gasol.
Later reports have intimated that no such put-in-place ever occurred; Howard was merely hurt that Kobe never actively recruited him to L.A.
Either way, Howard seemingly could have been traded at this moment but refused. The perception that he was trying to have his cake and eat it too while holding the Magic hostage would not get any better from here on out.
March 2012: D12 Opts into the Final Year of His Magic Contract
Despite the trade demands and supposed refusal of a ticket to L.A., Howard apparently "did the nice thing" by giving the Orlando Magic one more chance.
He said all the right things, but seemed more perturbed at the media and leaky Magic sources than he did joyful about his return. He stressed the loyalty both sides SHOULD feel towards one another, but also made clear that big changes needed to be made if he was to stay.
At the time, this seemed like Dwight had finally come around, and that maybe he had just been the victim of some overzealous reporters and a media frenzy that was outside his control.
That this contract was signed DURING the season also implied that Howard just wanted to focus on the Magic's playoff run and put this all behind him.
However, his next actions did nothing but immediately undo this perception.
April 2012: Stan Van Gundy Alleges D12 Treachery
The situation is by now so infamous it almost needs no explanation.
Stan Van Gundy approached the media in pre-game on April 6th to let them know he was aware of an apparent Dwight Howard coup.
Alleging that Dwight wanted him fired, SVG went on to air out the franchise's dirty laundry to all.
Then, Dwight Howard walked in and hugged him, apparently unaware of every Judas Iscariot cliche' he was mirroring.
The Magic not only went on to lose their game against the New York Knicks that night, but Howard went for eight points and eight rebounds on four of eight shots. Dwight vehemently denied all reports, and then promptly "tweaked" his back during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers the following night.
He would not play for the Orlando Magic again.
April 2012: Howard Shuts Down Due to Back Injury
Howard apparently tweaked his back on April 7th while playing the Philadelphia 76ers. He received treatment for nearly two weeks, but did not play again, before announcing that season-ending surgery was necessary.
His announcement came with just four games left in the Orlando Magic's season. They limped towards the playoffs, having gone just 4-7 without him. They would go on to lose in five games to the Indiana Pacers in the first round.
One never wants to question a player's health or their word, but the timing of this announcement was far too damagingly coincidental for Howard's cause. By this point, perception had turned so far against him that little benefit of the doubt was afforded his absence.
Instead, frustrated Magic fans wondered why he couldn't have gutted out a few more games for their season. Everyone else questioned whether Howard had conveniently already played his last game in a Magic uniform.
April 2012: Howard Retreets on the Social Media Front
The day that Dwight Howard announced his season-ending back surgery was the day he stopped Tweeting.
Previously an active figure in the social media scene, Howard's timing and absence were both noticeable and (apparently) damning.
As Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Hunter Konsens aptly points out, Howard had no obligation to continue feeding the public every bit of minutiae about his life.
At the same time, it gave off the appearance that he could no longer accept all the public criticism being lobbed his way. By becoming reclusive, Howard seemed to be admitting embarrassment, guilt or at the very least, a thin skin.
May 2012: Orlando Fires Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy
When the Orlando Magic fired GM Otis Smith and Coach Stan Van Gundy, the world decided that Dwight Howard's fingerprints were all over the decision.
Hadn't their ousters been part of his alleged demands all along?
At this point, the accusations were flying wildly while assumption of guilt was all but assured. Yet neither Howard, Smith, Van Gundy nor the Magic ever vehemently denied the claim either.
In fact, everyone seemed to dance around the issue. Maybe they were all too tired of dealing with the speculation to even acknowledge it anymore. Yet new unsubstantiated stories also emerged that maybe Dwight would even get to hand-pick the new Magic coach.
At this point, negativity had snowballed to the point that Howard was guilty by association, regardless of whether he had played an active part.
July 2012: Howard Narrows His Wishlist Down to One
In backing off claims that the Magic were "blackmailing" him, Howard appeared to reveal his own similar actions when talking with Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
"There’s only one team on my list and if I don’t get traded there, I'll play the season out and explore my free agency after that...
"I never used the word blackmail in reference to any of my dealings with the Magic. I never said that. It’s defamatory and it’s inaccurate. I know what blackmail means and any report that I used the term incorrectly is inaccurate."
Though it was nice to see Howard back off from the comments that may or may not have been just another case of hyperbolic reporting, his insistence on one team and one team only didn't improve his reputation.
Here was a player demanding to be traded, but also wanting to leverage every last bit of the scenario. Despite having opted into his contract while not possessing a no trade clause, Howard was tying the Magic's hands firmly behind their backs.
Few teams outside of the Quixotic Houston Rockets would be willing submit themselves to this ongoing media circus, to sell off all assets and then watch Dwight just walk away the following year.
Without a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, (presumed to be the one and only team), Howard apparently wouldn't play for the Magic or anybody else.
As the rumors continue to swirl around Dwight Howard, public frustration and animosity has turned towards exhaustion and apathy.
Especially once a rumored deal with the Brooklyn Nets fell through, most have thrown up their hands and tried to forsake the 24-hour cycle of Howard speculation and news.
Formerly one of the league's most popular stars, Howard's public clout has fallen so far that LeBron James is a beloved and respected figure by comparison.
While time and a championship may begin to heal all wounds, Howard's perception demise has been a long, slow burn that may take just as long to recover from.