On Wednesday night, 18,997 citizens of Los Angeles will pile into the Staples Center to watch an undermanned home team take on the biggest villain in the city’s recent sports history. With his departure over the summer, Dwight Howard left LA hanging and embarrassed. After giving him the keys to the car, Howard recklessly crashed the car, walked away as if nothing had happened and threw the keys back on his way to the airport.
Howard did not look like he was playing with heart and desire for most of his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. That was unforgivable but somewhat excusable considering his back injury.
Off the court, Howard was perceived as being petty and rumored to be fighting with teammate Kobe Bryant. The strife was later confirmed after Howard departed for Houston. One quick way to lose credibility with the Lakers and Angelinos would be to go against Bryant, who sacrificed his Achilles tendon to carry the team into playoffs last season.
Fittingly, the Lakers ended their season and time with Howard with embarrassment on the court and off it. A four-game sweep to the San Antonio Spurs was followed by Howard’s public departure to Houston.
During his exit interview with the LA media, Howard described his season with LA as a “nightmare.” Looking back on the year, “Dwightmare” is a term that has stuck, as Howard received a bulk of the blame for the failed season.
Although a major back injury is enough of an excuse to explain the lack of explosion Howard displayed in purple and gold, his refusal to set proper picks for Steve Nash could not be excused. Right or wrong in his desire to get to the post, Howard actively sabotaged the Lakers’ offense. Those who side with Howard still cannot explain his actions on the court with regards to setting simple picks for his point guards.
One year and one day after the death of Dr. Jerry Buss, the long-time owner of the Lakers, Howard returns to Staples Center as a villain. He has been back to LA this season, but he has never faced the Lakers since spitting on the ground as he boarded his jet to Houston.
Earlier in the season, Howard was playing against the LA Clippers at Staples Center. Nearly every time he caught the ball, he was booed. With his half-hearted play on the court and his immature attitude off it, Howard managed to insult the entire city of Los Angeles, not just the Lakers.
In a year when the Lakers should secretly celebrate every loss as a means to draft a top talent, Wednesday night is one game everyone in Los Angeles wants to win. Beating Howard will not save the season or fix the Lakers’ problems, but a desire to publicly shame Howard is one thing all Laker fans share.
Howard deserves that.