Dwight Howard's tenure with the Orlando Magic read like a fairy tale until he thought he could do better elsewhere, at which point it embodied betrayal and indecision more than anything else.
Too often we forget, though, that it wasn't all broken promises and fractured egos. Howard spent seven semi-glorious years with the Magic before the eighth turned the franchise and his reputation upside down.
Still, there are plenty of memories that both Howard and the Orlando faithful can look back fondly on, knowing that there was once a time when the marriage wasn't destructive or on the precipice of divorce.
For those other moments, the ones that predominantly ensued during the 2011-12 campaign, they're not so easy to digest. Some of them border on torturous, and most of them are considered reprehensible.
As Howard prepares to make his first return to Orlando as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, it will be interesting to see which parts of his stay in sunny Florida take precedence over everything else.
Will it be the good? The bad? The angelic? The (gasp) repugnant?
Emotions of all magnitudes will be running high, but we're still not entirely sure which ones will mold the prevailing theme of his return.
Dwight Howard set plenty of records with the Magic.
Only last season, Howard surpassed Nick Anderson as the team's all-time leading scorer. That it came amid an onslaught of controversy probably complicated his moral dilemma at the time.
This isn't the only record of Orlando's Howard holds either.
Presently, the behemoth is the Magic's all-time leading rebounder (8,072) and shot-blocker (1,344) in addition to their leading scorer (11,435). He's attempted (5,727) and made (3,366) more free throws than anyone in franchise history (I won't tell you where his percentage ranks, though) as well.
Undoubtedly, Orlando's continued anger over Howard's departure is fueled by how important he once was to the organization, and how important he arguably still is. He may be playing for Los Angeles, but his presence is still felt in the record books.
And it will be for quite some time.
Dwight Howard was seduced by the allure of playing in a larger market, and he made it public during the NBA lockout.
In an interview with Esquire magazine, Howard admitted that there was "more" he can do in fancier digs:
There's more you can do in a bigger place. I'm stuck in a tough position because I feel like right now, where I'm at, I've done so much. And I just don't know what else I can do. I can't live for everybody else. I don't know what decision I'm gonna make as of right now. It's been crazy. Everybody wants me to come here, come play here, come to our team, do this. It's a great feeling, though, to be wanted.
Adamant as he was about not having reached a decision, this was the beginning of the end.
Speculation ran rampant after the Atlanta Hawks ousted the Magic in the first-round of the 2011 NBA playoffs, but for the first (genuine) time, Howard came close to divulging that he had one foot out the door.
It took him almost another year to get that second foot out, but still, that only adds to the significance behind this.
Or should I say pain?
Few players can say they did anything better than the ever dominant Wilt Chamberlain. Dwight Howard is one of those players.
In the midst of a campaign that would culminate in reaching the NBA Finals (spoiler), Howard became the youngest player in league history to grab 5,000 rebounds.
Howard actually shattered Chamberlain's record by more than two years. Wilt was 25 years old while Howard was just 23.
It was a fitting feat for what was the most decorated season of Howard's career. He once again proved just how dominant a pillar he was, further separating himself from the rest of the pack.
Not bad, Dwight.
Save for plenty of missed free throws, not much comes to mind outside of the Dwightmare that ensued last season, so feast on this.
Dwight Howard is a career 57.9 percent free-throw shooter, and watching him from the charity stripe over the last nine or so years has been, more often than not, ugly.
In a Christmas Day bout against the Boston Celtics, Howard decided to forgo the formality of a missed free throw and just simply not take it.
The technical foul he was tagged with afterward suggests that this wasn't planned, but his excessive idleness says otherwise.
If anything, though, be happy that this meandered it's way on here. It shows that even Howard at his worst wasn't unbearable.
Prior to last season, that is.
*Note: Should it be air balls you crave, Howard had a doozy of a whiff against the Chicago Bulls in 2009.
Winning the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award is impressive. Winning it twice is incredible. Winning it for three consecutive seasons is unprecedented.
And that's what Dwight Howard did.
Howard earned his third Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011, becoming the only player to do three times in a row. He led the Association in double-doubles that season (66) and averaged 14.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
Had Superman not been sidelined to finish out the 2011-12 crusade, he may have received such an honor for a fourth straight time.
Putting the "what ifs" aside, Howard's successive triumvirate of defensive player awards is one that is likely to hold for a while.
Truth be told, then Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide's resignation isn't Dwight Howard's fault. It was, however, induced by the Dwightmare.
Vander Weide's departure came on the heels of a report that he had drunk-dialed Howard in an attempt to convince him to stay.
"Maybe Dwight thought it was inappropriate to talk business after a couple of glasses of wine... Maybe I should have waited until the morning," Vander Weide later said (via FoxSports.com).
One of the cardinal rules of courting is that you never show your hand. Instead, you play hard to get. You show the one (Howard) your fawning over what they're missing. You don't phone them up, chardonnay in hand, and attempt to plead your case.
Vander Weide learned that the hard way.
What we learned was that there was going to be collateral damage as the result of this ongoing saga. Vander Weide wasn't the last.
So while this was far from Vander Weide's finest hour, his behavior was motivated by (you guessed it) Superman and all the power he held.
Power that rendered Vander Weide just another notch under the Dwightmare's at times sadistic belt.
This one's going to hurt, but it's also a quintessential example of what Dwight Howard and the Magic once had.
Howard signed a five-year, $80-plus million extension in 2007, spurring immediate thoughts of him being a lifetime member of the Magic. He was only 21, but such a commitment three years into his career had to be a good thing.
And it was, for a while.
Orlando's pride and joy went on to break records, instill hope and even bring the Magic within grasp of their first ever NBA title (spoiler, part two).
"Me and Mickey Mouse will be here forever," Howard said at the time (via ESPN.com)
Or you know, the next few years.
Same difference, right?
This will go down as the surgery that proved Dwight Howard was human.
Through the first seven seasons of his career, Howard missed just seven total games. During the lockout-truncated 2011-12 campaign, he missed 12.
Not necessarily, but Howard was forced to undergo season-ending back surgery last April. The injury kept him out of the playoffs, rendered the Magic a first-round out and was effectively his final farewell.
Howard never played another game for or in Orlando. His last home game would go down as an April 5 loss to the New York Knicks, a contest in which he tallied just eight points and eight rebounds in nearly 40 minutes.
Some farewell party.
Of course, no one knew it was Howard's last home game at the time. Not even after the surgery. There was a sense that he may be traded over the summer, but he was under contract with the Magic through this season after waving his early termination option.
It takes just one look at him in his new digs to see how that worked out.
In a sense, Howard was humanized and prematurely ripped from the Magic with one surgery. That's hardly a poster for his time in Orlando.
Unseating a top-seeded Cavaliers convocation was a euphoric experience for the big man and the entire Magic fanbase. The prospect of winning the franchise's first ever championship was almost too much to bear.
Or rather, it was too much to bear.
Howard and the Magic fell to the Lakers in five games, in a painstaking, and now, ironic fashion.
Failing to bring a title to Orlando most definitely didn't sit well with Howard, but at the time, he set a standard for all his future teams to be held to. Under his watch, the Magic were talented enough (mostly because of him) to contend.
For the next two-plus seasons, Orlando did just that—contend. Howard kept the team relevant and in the championship hunt for two consecutive seasons before falling victim to a back injury last year. Even then, he left the Magic in a position where they could, at least, clinch a playoff berth.
Falling three victories short of an NBA title nearly four years ago is hardly of any consolation, I know. Said feat was a testament to Howard's impact and his ability to lead, though.
As well as the most amorous a memory the Magic have of their former savior.
So this was embarrassing.
Moments after then Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters that he knew Dwight Howard wanted him fired, Howard himself traipsed his way onto the scene.
And what did he do?
Embraced Van Gundy, hugged him even (you know how he loves to hug).
Van Gundy eventually steps away and Howard is asked about what his coach had just said. The look on his face when he found out what had just transpired was beyond priceless; a cross between stupefied and petrified, I'd say.
Quickly (somewhat) regaining his composure, Howard proceeded to deny that he wanted Van Gundy fired.
And I'd believe him—if it wasn't for the fact that Van Gundy was fired upon season's end, shown the door along with general manager Otis Smith.
Oh, (*facepalm*) Dwight.