Dwight Howard spent a lot of time the past week trying to clean his slate with the city of Orlando before heading back there for the first time as a Los Angeles Laker.
The former Magic star apologized to anyone whose feelings he might have hurt on his way out of town following a contentious 2011-12 season filled with rumored trade demands. But if he is nervous about returning, he wasn’t showing it Sunday following the Lakers’ win against the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.
Howard laughed heartily when a reporter showed him yet another parody of him — this time a meme — that had just popped up on the Internet. Before the game, Howard had been showing teammates a mocking video of himself, set to Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You.”
“Man, there are definitely some creative people out there,” he said.
If Howard wants to see creativity, wait until Tuesday night rolls around in central Florida.
Howard will be making his first-ever appearance there in a uniform other than that of the Orlando Magic, and he’s sharp enough to realize that the reception from his former fans will range from shrill and cold to downright ugly. Harsh signs will fill the Amway Center, reminding him that although you can go home again, sometimes you should just stay away.
“I’d like it to be the way it was, but I’m a Laker now and there are still a lot of people who didn’t like the way (my leaving) went down,” Howard said. “But that’s OK, because I have great memories of my time in Orlando. I wish them nothing but the best. We accomplished a lot while I was there, and no one can take any of it away.”
Not that they wouldn’t like to try.
The Orlando Sentinel put together the “Forget You” music video parody about Howard, which became an online sensation hours after it was released Thursday. It featured some of Howard’s former Orlando teammates, including Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis, with enormous heads atop tiny bodies, trashing Howard for leaving.
It began with a narration: “Dwight Howard is back in town with his new girlfriend — the Los Angeles Lakers — and we have one last thing to say.” Then the animated Nelson — one of Howard’s biggest critics recently — sang, “I guess our brand-new arena wasn’t enough. So forget you and the Lakers, too.”
Forgetting Howard will be the last thing on the agenda for spurned Magic fans, who still view the “Dwightmare” as nothing but a cruel repeat of Shaquille O’Neal’s leaving to join the Lakers as a free agent in 1996. This time, though, it was harder to swallow, because Howard forced his way out of Orlando, while O’Neal left when his contract ran out.
Howard’s new teammates are trying to prepare him for the reaction he likely will get in his former home arena, kidding with him for the first time Sunday about the parody and his journey back to the city in which he played his first eight seasons.
“Yeah, today was really the first time we joked with him about it,” said forward Antawn Jamison. “I told him that a lot of people will remember the great things he did while he was down there, but other people won’t. So, the key for him is just to go out and have as much fun as he can. We’re going to have his back and try to make it as easy for him as possible.”
While Jamison said he’s hoping Howard has an easy time of it, he has seen what it’s like when an entire city turns on you after you broke their sporting hearts.
Jamison was a member of the Cavaliers when LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the first time after leaving for Miami. He doubts if the reaction toward Howard will be anywhere near as negative as it was toward LBJ.
“There’s not much chance of that happening,” Jamison said. “It will probably be tough, but it won’t be as tough or as nasty as it was for LeBron. No way I foresee that happening. There was none of that (Decision) stuff or anything else that LeBron had to deal with. He was born in that area and played for Cleveland, then went to another team. That’s tough to deal with.
“Dwight is a really good guy, and, hopefully, they’ll remember the good things.”
If it gets a little heated and Howard starts to get emotional, the ultra-competitive Kobe Bryant said he’ll have a few words for his center.
“Yeah . . . I’ll talk to him,” Bryant said Sunday, flashing the same assassin-type glare he has when trying to hit a game-winning shot. “Dwight is such a nice guy; he really wants everybody to like him. That’s not going to happen there.
“He just has to go out there and bust their (tails), and show them what they’re missing. Then save the emotional stuff for when you retire.”
Howard said Bryant was right in his assessment, but: “Kobe’s been in one place for 17 years. That’s a whole different world. But he’s right.
“I’m just going to go out there and try to have as much fun as possible. That’s all I can do.”