— The crown sat unsteadily and uncomfortably upon the head of LeBron James. But now it has been removed. I am not referring to any King James association, or any nod to lids that come with being a champion.
No, I mean king of the NBA jackasses. That distinction now belongs to Dwight Howard.
The King is dead. Long live the King.
LeBron was never really suited to the role anyway. It was somewhat of a misnomer. He was always basically a good guy who did something extremely dopey — “The Decision” — that invited universal derision. This past season, public opinion swung back his way, and now he’s redeemed (except in and around Cleveland, Ohio) and on top of the world.
But Howard has real potential to retain his crown for years to come. It’s difficult to predict such things, of course. He’s impossible to read because he keeps changing his mind. Recently he declared he wants to play for only one team, the Brooklyn Nets. Yet in the past he has sent out more messages than a spam scammer. Brett Favre was more decisive than this.
I don’t want to say that Howard is holding the Orlando Magic hostage, because in actual hostage situations there is at least a glimmer of hope the victim will be freed. The Magic will never be free of Howard, or rather, it will never be free from the fallout of having him on its roster. To this day, the franchise still feels the effects of losing Shaquille O’Neal. When Howard eventually departs, he will leave the Magic poorer in basketball terms — and bitter.
LeBron James became known as a jackass after he left the Cavaliers. But the reality is that he tried to remain in Cleveland. He just couldn’t get anyone to join him there. Chris Bosh wanted nothing to do with that city. LeBron wanted to construct a Big Three. Therefore, he decided to go to Miami. He just did so in such a classless way that critics dogged him for the better part of two years for it.
Howard has wanted out of Orlando for months now. He wants to go here. No, he wants to go there. He’s like a little kid lost in a travel agency. Inexplicably, in March he signed a waiver of the early termination option of his contract, deciding to remain with the Magic through the 2012-13 season. That made no sense to anybody.
At that time, he did an interview with a web site called RealGM.com in which he said: “Man, listen, you know my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando. I just can’t leave it behind. I have gotten some bad advice. I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city.”
On Sunday, he told Yahoo! Sports: “There’s only one team on my list and if I don’t get traded there, I’ll play the season out and explore my free agency after that.” Yahoo! reported that the one team is the Brooklyn Nets.
But that’s not all in Howard’s jackass portfolio.
There was the bizarre recent report that he told people the Magic “blackmailed” him into signing that waiver, something he quickly denied ever having said.
Howard is reportedly also attempting to dissuade any other team from trading for him and then trying to convince him to re-sign there. It has to do with Bird rights and getting an extra year on his deal. He wants to be traded to the Nets, then re-sign with the Nets. Then he’ll be where he wants to be, and make more money.
Notice you never hear anything about winning a championship. At least when LeBron deserted Cleveland, he did so because he lusted after a ring, and felt he had a much better chance with the Heat than with the Cavaliers. With Howard, it seems to be all about stardom, money and power.
And let’s not forget the Stan Van Gundy fiasco. In April, the then-Magic coach claimed top club officials told him that Howard had asked management to fire Van Gundy as a condition of Howard staying in Orlando. It was one of the weirdest moments of the season, and later the Magic kowtowed to Howard’s wishes by canning Van Gundy and “parting ways” with general manager Otis Smith.
That was just three months ago. Now Howard is making a new demand: Brooklyn or Bust. A guy with a bad back is throwing his weight around! That’s never good. He’s trying to bully Orlando into sending him to the Nets, but he might be bringing damaged goods there, given his recent surgery and the information blackout about his recovery. At the very least, he should put out a video of him doing calisthenics before he gets too pushy.
I understand that all of these things might just be a 26-year-old guy struggling with the pressure and responsibility of being the most dominant big man in the game. After all, Shaq had his less than princely moments. All kinds of NBA characters have fought publicly with coaches and management while trying to dictate their futures. Kobe Bryant once called Lakers owner Jerry Buss an “idiot” when he demanded a trade in May of 2007. Jerry Sloan resigned as head coach of the Utah Jazz, but it is widely believed that he was pushed out because of a feud with Deron Williams.
Yet it seems more likely, based on the sheer magnitude of strife and ill will that Howard has generated from his perch in Orlando, that he is an incorrigible diva who won’t stop whining after he gets what he wants. If he does wind up with the Nets, I bet head coach Avery Johnson and general manager Billy King will both sleep a little worse at night.
LeBron took a lot of abuse these past two years, but he played in Miami, where the media and fans are a little more relaxed. Even though national media covered him, his day-to-day existence wasn’t that crazy.
Howard is demanding a trade to New York City. It’s a classic “Be careful what you wish for” situation. There will be great excitement around Brooklyn’s new team, and Howard will step forward with a huge smile and lap up the love. Then the team will start to play, and inevitably it will struggle — just like the Heat did initially, and indeed this season too — and the press will ratchet up the questioning.
Howard, as the face of the franchise, will get most of the questions. And few of them will be questions he’ll enjoy answering. This won’t be sunny Orlando, a relatively serene environment for a star professional athlete. This will be the Big Apple, the only piece of fruit that devours humans.
Howard always fancied himself as Superman. He should get used to being Lex Luthor for the foreseeable future.