Dwight Howard high-fives young fans during the NBA's 2012 All-Star Weekend, (Getty Images)Good news, everyone: After months and months of stories about how the relationship between All-Star center Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic has become toxic, resulting in strident trade demands, countless rumors that ultimately signified nothing, the wholesale turnover of the Magic's front office and coaching staff, more demands, more rumors and more nothing, we've finally got a positive story about how Howard's relating to fans and supporters in the Orlando area. Finally.
Hahahahaha, just kidding. Like that could ever happen at this point. If you actually thought that was possible, then as the great Paul F. Tompkins once said, you need to go back to thinking school.
No, instead, Howard has reportedly canceled an appearance at his own summer basketball camp — a camp he previously pushed back by more than a month — to stay out on the West Coast and leave a slew of Floridian families stewing in their own juices. Because of course he has.
An official for ProCamps, which runs the event, said families who paid the camp's $199 registration fee were sent e-mail messages Monday to inform them Howard will remain in southern California in order to continue rehabilitating his back. [...]
Howard's annual camp originally was scheduled for July 1-2 at UCF, with Howard slated to attend both days. But it was postponed and later rescheduled for Aug. 13-14 at Orlando Volleyball Academy.
The camp still will be held next week. Andrew Nicholson, the Magic's 2012 first-round draft pick, will take Howard's place.
Well, at least the youth of Florida will get introduced to Nicholson early, I guess. They'll probably wind up hearing a lot about how important his development to the Magic's return to playoff contention over the next couple of years.
Howard's SoCal rehabilitation from late-April back surgery — which he told Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler on Sunday is going well, though he's still not close to getting back on the court — has also included a Friday night trip to Dodger Stadium (where he was reportedly booed by Los Angeles Dodgers fans) and an unannounced visit to the adidas Nations basketball camp, where he "gathered ... the college counselors to share his wisdom," according to Charlie Yao of Roundball Mining Company.
This, of course, is tantamount to blood in the water for Orlando-area columnists like the Sentinel's Mike Bianchi, who's seething at the perceived lack of respect Howard continues to show the city, organization and fans that have supported him for the past eight years:
I've said it once and I'll say again: It's hard to believe Dwight is physically unable to attend a youth basketball camp, walk around the gym, offer some words of encouragement, take pictures and sign some autographs for the kids.
Not only has Howard let down his teammates and the City of Orlando, now he has let down many kids, too. [...]
It seems Dwight Howard is not only doing his best to get traded from Orlando, he's doing his best to be hated in Orlando, too.
While I wouldn't presume to hold up Bianchi as the official mouthpiece of all Orlando sports fans, you can certainly understand how — after all the hits Magic fans have taken during Howard's endless and endlessly awkward attempt to skip town — it's easy to see bowing out of a camp that bears his name and denying kids the thrill of meeting an NBA All-Star as just another indicator of how little he wants to be in Orlando, another signpost to remind them how little he cares about them. For today, at least, the public faces on this phenomenally failed crash-and-burn exit strategy belong neither to Howard, nor the exiled GM-and-coach tandem of Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy, nor Orlando's ownership and present management Magic management. They're the faces of disappointed Central Florida children and the parents who have to decide whether to ask for their $200 back or get their kids psyched up to play knockout with Andrew Nicholson. (No offense, Andrew.)
And frankly, that might be totally unfair to Howard; it's entirely possible that the scratch is legitimate, that both the initial postponement of the camp and this late-stage cancellation result from not wanting to jeopardize the slow progress of his rehab with cross-country travel that might not be absolutely necessary. But at this point, in most fans' eyes, it's become extraordinarily difficult (if not impossible) to give Howard the benefit of the doubt. He's just about totally burned through any line of credit he built up with his play over the years.
Howard has yet to shed any light on this most recent disappointment — according to Kyler, the center is "not doing interviews and is staying out of the limelight deliberately," and "has a small army of people keeping media out." (Except, apparently, the media member he updated on his rehab progress.)
That said, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see a statement somehow make a heroic break through that "small army" and into the outside world now that people know Howard's shafting young fans, because this is sort of how the entire "Dwight Howard Wants to Leave Orlando" thing has played out:
1. Dwight makes a decision or says something privately.
2. It's then brought to light, which makes everyone mad.
3. He deflects both the revelation and the backlash, but mildly, in word and deed.
4. Nobody really buys his deflection, and he becomes vilified for the decision, statement and lukewarm response to the backlash.
5. He makes a fairly halfhearted attempt to get back into the public's good graces, which, again, nobody really buys.
6. Return to step 1 and repeat the process.
It's been pretty ridiculous and painful to watch unfold, and with Howard reportedly still dead-set on leaving the Magic on the next thing smoking, and Orlando reportedly still dead-set on hanging on to him until it can get what it deems to be fair value in exchange for the center's services, the cycle sure doesn't seem likely to end anytime soon. Pitched conflicts between two deeply entrenched sides often have unintended consequences and innocent victims; it just sucks that these ones are kids who just wanted, like, a high-five.