The beckoning hand of vitriolic prose has reached out and touched me… in a very bad place, I might add.
The source of inspiration this time around is none other than the current king of NBA primadonnas, Dwight Howard. The self-appointed “Superman,” who has the inherent ability to live up to the name with his game, but is no more super than the last guy who adopted said moniker (more on him later), in terms of his insecurities, his demeanor, and his overall grasp of what he is and his place in this little world.
Make no mistake about it: this is a small world (after all). No matter how important you think you are, rest assured, you aren’t. All it takes is a little bit of universal perspective (hit me with that Carl Sagan, playboy!) or a glance through some historical literature, but some people just don’t get it. It’s probably best to count ‘em as a lost cause now, because there’s a good chance that the epiphany isn’t going to be had.
Humorous, isn’t it? The irony is Rashard Lewis-level rich (which is equally unsettling). These titans, propped up on a pedestal and portrayed as walking sports deities by an association and the media that follows it, often fail miserably when it comes to handling situations in which things aren’t going as they’d prefer. All it takes is somebody not giving them exactly what they want, and they’re instantly reduced to child-like status. Alanis Morissette probably should have worked all this into that song, although I’m willing to give her pass based on the fact that “Shaquille O’Neal” is tough to condense into a tidy lyric, and I don’t even think Dwight was alive when the tune was originally penned.
Anyhow, the current NBA landscape is now dominated, yet again, by the saga of a guy who thinks he’s bigger than it all and can disregard everything else in favor getting what he wants. Like Carmelo Anthony last year, Howard has hijacked the headlines from the moment the season started (actually, long before it even started) by failing to commit to either staying or going. One minute, it’s “I want to be traded and here is my short list of teams and/or cities I’d be willing to go to,” followed by the same three-to-four team list that everybody has because they’d either be in the spotlight or on the beach. The next minute, it’s “I want to stay because I love this town and I want to be here forever and I’m pretty sure they’ll rename Disneyworld after me, or at least give me my own personal wing with rollercoasters and attractions* that best represent my persona…”
(* Preliminary discussions have included “Gunnin’ Down Van Gundy” (where you get a life-sized, plush dog if you are able to accurately pick off a mere 4 of the 12 targets offered with a pellet gun), as well as the “The Dwight Howard Vocal Experience” (which ranges from the “Pouting Station” [your vocals are transposed down by 6 whole tones and volume is reduced by approximately 40%] to the “Completely Oblivious Country Bear Jam Down” [you get to sit at a booth and be part of a simulated NBA broadcast, all while just talking to your friends as if you don’t have a headset on at all].)
To be fair, the media is (as always) at least partially to blame for reporting on every little rumor with little in the way of confirmation. However, all anyone ever has to do is come out and make a definitive statement, and it’s done with. Of course, that’s too much to ask because it involves making a decision like an adult and it eliminates the chase that makes the player the center of the attention and the main headline. These guys love the chase on, at the very least, a subconscious level. That’s why you shouldn’t even bother asking them about it because they’ll either avoid the question altogether, or just spew out a clichéd response that has nothing to do with actually answering anything.
Nevertheless, the trade deadline came and went without a trade, and Howard agreed to stay in Orlando for another year… which basically did nothing but assure that we’ll go through this whole dance until it’s decision time yet again. Orlando has been off as a team because of this complete distraction, and the lack of a firm commitment means that they really can’t move forward to any degree of significance. It looked like we’d be stuck with another stretch of the Magic playing mediocre-to-okay basketball, a first or second-round loss in the playoffs, and another offseason of speculation.
Then, Stan Van Gundy basically decided he’d had enough of this shit.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a sort of mixed opinion when it comes to SVG. I think he’s a good coach who sometimes drives me a little insane with his antics and the things that he says. However, I’ll always give him credit for speaking his mind, even if I don’t like what he says and/or whether or not I agree with him. He strikes me as a guy who never has a problem speaking up in a league where almost everyone else holds back. It’s a double-edged sword and it can get you into trouble quickly, but the forthcoming style is appreciated.
So, when Van Gundy came out on Thursday afternoon and let it be known that he knows of Dwight Howard’s desires to have him traded, I wasn’t surprised. He was immediately ripped by the likes of Kenny Smith and Shaq for not keeping that information private. I understand their view if you look at the situation in just general terms, but you can’t do that. You need specifics. If I randomly shot a dude in the face, everyone would condemn me for my actions because it’s not particularly good to go around doing that. However, if I shot a dude in the face because he was in the process of assaulting me, or threatening the life of a child, or sitting around on a park bench while singing along to Celine Dion’s butchering of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and commenting on how good that new Kevin Hart movie looks, you might think differently. The situations aren’t the same.
(Note: I don’t even own a gun, so if you’re on that suspicious tip, come off it.)
Stan Van Gundy has had to deal with this ego-maniac completely destroying any chance of the team having any focus on basketball. Despite the claims that he’s always there for his team, Howard’s actions prove anything but. If the guy can’t understand how dragging out his own personal situation is both detrimental to the cause as well as disrespectful to the organization, then that’s his problem. It certainly isn’t Van Gundy’s fault.
Van Gundy lost this team a long time ago. They’re gone now, for certain, but I highly doubt that he’s had any significant grip on a group that has slowly but surely declined since its days as a legitimate threat just a few years ago. Maybe he could have done things differently, or maybe it has just run its course. Not everyone is Jerry Sloan, and in his storied tenure, Jerry Sloan didn’t have to deal with a Dwight Howard situation…
… until he did, and look how that turned out.
The point is, if a guy like Van Gundy is dealing with a mega-head case that prevents his team from progressing, it’s only a matter of time before he’ll speak up. The guy clearly has a temper and comes off as a little thin-skinned at times. So, I’m not surprised that he didn’t hesitate to drop a little something about the dude that has made his job (and probably his life) a living hell.
Now, of course, if you ask the former or current players about it, they’ll stand up for and support another player because he’s “one of the guys” and they’re willing to overlook the fact that Dwight Howard has been a child this entire time in favor of coming off as talking heads who will rep the stars until the end. A guy like Shaq, who has essentially done nothing but downplay Howard’s ability as a player based out of pure envy and insecurity, justifies Howard’s position by noting that players going to management to get a coach fired “has been done before.” First off, that’s not exactly sound rationale for doing anything, and secondly, I’ll give you one guess as to who actually has “done it before.” It’s funny how Shaq will talk about being “the real Superman” or say things like “Andrew Bynum is the best big man in the league,” but when it’s in his best interest, he’s all “pro-Dwight.”
Shaq might resent Dwight Howard for being the new version of him, but they really are two peas in a pod.
Regardless, whether Van Gundy is fired before I can post this article or not, we’ll still be left with Howard. I don’t know how anyone can overlook the guy’s shameless behavior anymore. In the past, he was mostly just criticized for being a guy who has all the gifts in the world and could be as dominating as anyone, but didn’t seem to have the hunger and often looked a bit aloof out there in times that required much more. It was mostly a work ethic thing, one that could possibly be fixed as he matured (don’t laugh). Unfortunately, this whole runaround has shown us what he really is. Howard handles adversity by either ignoring legitimate criticism or pouting. When it’s time to rise to the occasion and show character, he does anything but that. His effort on Thursday night against the Knicks was one of the all-time, sandbag jobs. His playful gesturing to the crowd at the end of the game was yet another sign of a mentally-weak individual. Hell, watch him put his arm around Van Gundy during the now-infamous clip in some sort of disingenuous/bullying attempt (which failed, by the way). Watch him lie through his teeth in the post-game interview about how his injury was somehow to blame for the fact that he completely shunned the idea of effort during the game. All it takes is a set of eyes to see it.
Dwight Howard has always shown that he struggles with handling pressure during a game (hit him a few times, take an elbow, and he’s T’d up and gone). It looks like he can barely face it off the court, as well. All of the phony smiles and hollow laughter shouldn’t fool anyone, anymore.
– Wes Lilliman