Dwight Howard is following in the footsteps of LeBron James. He has gone from a beloved smiling superstar to one whose smile is now being viewed as a symbol of deceit and selfishness. He has spurned his home team for the bright lights of L.A.
But this isn't the first time Magic fans have had to deal with this.
Rewind the times to 1996: Shaquille O'Neal was offered significantly more money than Magic GM Pat Williams offered the future four-time NBA champion. He had already stated prior to entering the league that he wished to join the Lakers.
When 91 percent of the fans in an Orlando Sentinel poll voted against giving Shaq a $121-plus million max-level contract, O'Neal reacted the way any big fish in a small pond would: He left for a bigger and brighter pond.
Nothing has changed since then.
And nothing ever will.
The NBA, and all major sports, in fact, have always progressed towards a dominant top-end in team talent. In shorter terms, stars want to play with stars. It happened in Boston in 2007, Miami in 2010, and L.A. in 2012. Every two or three seasons, a super team convenes. By 2014, there will be another two to three free agent heists, where stars migrate to join the other premier talents.
Oklahoma City is by default the team for casual fans to root for; they did it organically through the NBA Draft. But those teams that assemble a top-tier two to three player combo find a way to win faster, and no one really likes when it is a forced effort on the players' parts to build super teams.
There really aren't any kinds of rules or provisions that the league could enact to control human nature. As long as like draws like, the best players will want to play with their perfect complements. Just imagine if LeBron and Dwight Howard were on the same team.
A 34-year-old Kobe Bryant and Howard is scary enough. Then, the Lakers top it off by throwing Spanish big man Pau Gasol and two-time MVP Steve Nash into the lineup...the effect is downright scary.
But this really isn't about how good the Lakers are, because that wasn't their primary M.O. They obtained Howard because they know he'll stay there. He'll love running pick and rolls with Steve Nash with the option to kick it out to Gasol or Kobe if things go wrong. It's every player's dream to win on a stacked team. It makes their job easier, the wins sweeter—and the road to the championship so much shorter.
The thing is, I'm not sure I really want it prevented. Players should be allowed to do what they want.
Will teams like the Magic and other small market teams that groom superstars for teams like the Lakers win championships? It's doubtful. But sometimes we don't get parity for any given league.
The sad part is that the NBA will never be an exception to that rule. Sometimes, things fans hate to see just can't be prevented.