What Will It Take for NBA Fans to Forgive Dwight Howard?
It took LeBron James two years and a championship for most fans to forgive him his free-agent trespasses, and some still haven't.
Others probably never will.
Though Dwight Howard forewent a staged spectacle on par with "The Decision," the pain through which he put the Orlando Magic was far worse. James reserved his publicity stunt for the summer, whereas Howard torpedoed an entire season with trade demands, flip-flopping and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that might have cost former head coach Stan Van Gundy his job.
In the process, he turned into a pretty bad liar.
But if there's one thing we know about NBA fans, it's that they have a relatively short memory. For all their hyperbolic ranting and raving, they're a pretty forgiving lot really.
Just how forgiving? Well, Dwight Howard may put that to the test.
The 26-year-old superstar has plenty of time to restore his bruised image. He also has the benefit of attempting to do so in the fluffy media market that is Los Angeles.
And besides, as blogger extraordinaire Bill Simmons pointed out, there's nothing a little winning can't cure:
When the Lakers are rolling and their fans are chugging the Howard Kool-Aid in a few months, nobody will remember that Howard disgraced himself with some of the wishy-washiest behavior in recent sports history.
Will you forgive Dwight?
Of course, that's in Los Angeles, a city whose fans are every bit as transplanted as the Lakers franchise itself (as a few Minnesotans might recall). Yes, they may be fairweather fans occasionally tempted by the allure of the up-and-coming Clippers, but it's pretty easy for a franchise to get by on fairweather fans when the weather is so very nice.
The Lakers are used to winning, and it's always 75 degrees outside.
And let's face it, most of the people going to Lakers games don't even know the Orlando Magic are a team, much less one so freshly betrayed and abandoned by a self-absorbed behemoth.
No, these fans won't have any scruples about forgiving Howard.
But what about the rest of the world? What about Middle America and its stubborn insistence upon things like virtue and loyalty?
Can Howard win them back?
Yes, but it will take more than a title or two. After all, winning a title for the Lakers counts as just another reason to hate them for most people. This is a team that avoids rebuilding at every turn, capitalizing instead on lopsided trades, washed-up ring-chasers and the Jedi mind trick that is large-market free agent appeal.
Howard's success will only be the latest reminder that this franchise has never had to play by the same rules, at least not in any meaningful sense. The salary cap has always been just soft enough for the Lakers to go over it by about $40 million.
The only chance Howard has of making amends is by coming clean with a historic mea culpa.
He should accept the way he handled things was wrong. He should admit that it wasn't all former Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith's fault. He should account for the fact that the only reason Smith made such hasty, ill-advised moves was in fact to placate Howard.
He should wipe his car-salesman's smile off his face and concede to the planet that he's selfish, impulsive and fake.
Chances are, none of that will ever happen in any way, shape or form, but a man can dream, can't he?
Chances are, Howard will instead follow in LeBron's footsteps and hire experts to meticulously manage his image.
The more discriminating fans will roll their eyes and bemoan the league's rate of ego inflation. The bandwagon fans will keep their mouths shut and feign amazement at how this guy's turned things around. Or, they'll just adopt some self-righteous position contending that Dwight's critics are too self-righteous.
The most gullible of fans probably still think Howard is a good guy.
Yes, there will be a few of us moralizing stalwarts who cringe at the thought of Howard winning a championship. But there's a simple answer to this question of what it will take to for most fans to forgive this man.
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