It’s been more than a year since Dwight Howard unceremoniously dumped Orlando in favor of Hollywood, and in the time since that relationship crumbled into a pile of Tinkerbell fairy dust, Howard picked up a second crazy ex in the Los Angeles Lakers.
But if you thought Howard and the Magic were back on speaking terms just because he’s been seeing Houston and he’s made nice with former coach Stan Van Gundy, think again.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Howard intimated that there are still some hurt feelings when it comes to his first love — in large part because the Magic moved on to someone new, too.
"I just think that despite whatever happened, there was a lot of things that I did and that we did as a team, and that number was special down there," Howard said when asked about the Magic giving his old No. 12 to forward Tobias Harris, who came to Orlando as part of February’s J.J. Redick trade. "And I was a little bit upset about that."
Howard may find sympathy hard to come by in Central Florida, though.
For starters, the second-year man Harris came in and played extremely well in his 27 games with the Magic last season, averaging 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a night while cementing his place as a cornerstone of the franchise going forward. He’s also got a damn good reason for wearing No. 12, and it has nothing to do with jeering Dwight or dismissing his legacy.
Harris wears the number as a tribute to Morgan Childs, a former teammate who died of leukemia at age 17. According to Newsday, Harris promised that he would honor Childs by wearing the number, so he wore it at Tennessee, and when he had the opportunity to get it back in Orlando — Luc Mbah a Moute had already claimed it in Milwaukee — he took it.
"My son and Tobias, they were both tremendous players who came up together," Childs’ father, Reggie, told Newsday earlier this year. "It says a lot about Tobias for him to remember my son the way he does. For me, and for the rest of my family, every time we see Tobias out there, it’s like we got to play in the NBA, too. Tobias is a special player and a special person."
Now, maybe Howard didn’t know the backstory behind Harris wearing the No. 12 jersey. I’d hate to think he’d make such a petty remark if he did. But even if Howard was completely unaware, I’m not sure what makes him think he earned the right to claim that number for eternity.
After the way things ended between Howard and the Magic, there’s no way he’ll be immortalized in Orlando the way he wishes he could be — just like you’ll never see Shaq’s No. 32 hanging in the Amway Center rafters, either.
Howard will always be appreciated for the vast impact he had on the city while he was there, and he’s never going to be hated in quite the way LeBron James was when he left Cleveland. Orlando is a more forgiving bygone flame than most.
But what’s done is done. There’s a new No. 12 in town now, and Howard is just going to have to deal with it.