Dwight Howard is making waves again and restarting the 2012 hype machine (as this lockout drags on).
Howard responded to a Twitter message from a fan stating that fans are in Amway Center to look good until the Playoffs, when they (finally) start to bring the noise. This is no new accusation against NBA fans -- Lakers fans are notorious for arriving to games late. Fan noise was a major concern in the cavernous Amway Center and there was a rush out of the bowl for most of halftime going into the third quarter.
None of this is new. And neither is Dwight's response:
"That upsets me [because] I don't wait till the Playoffs to play hard. I give y’all my best every night. [Why?] [Because] some people don't get a chance to be at every game. And I want them to always remember the night they saw me play. So. I play for y'all. I feed off the fans. ESP[ECIALLY] at home. It's a different atmosphere in the playoffs at the arena. That same atmosphere should be during the season."
For sure, there is a different feel when you get to the Playoffs. Howard noticed it too. And it did not help that Amway Center is pretty quiet compared to the "on-top-of-you" feeling the Orlando Arena had. The price you pay for luxury suites and amenities.
Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel writes Howard said he does not mind the amenities, but just wants the fans to bring the same energy to the building every night. Amway Center definitely had a different feel to it and it seemed sometimes that fans were checking the arena out more than the action on the court. The fact is, the fans are further away from the court, they simply will not make as much noise.
This problem is not new. Stan Van Gundy had comments throughout the season about Amway Center and Howard issued a challenge to fans before the postseason to be present and loud before tip off.
It did not take long for media outlets to read too much into these comments -- again, this concern is not new with the new arena. Just about every basketball expert seems to expect Dwight Howard to be out of Orlando come free agency 2012 (where he will land is still a matter of pure conjecture... partly because there is no collective bargaining agreement yet).
Howard has issued challenges to everyone it seems this offseason. He has said Stan Van Gundy did not use Gilbert Arenas the right way. He has said management did not involve him enough in the roster personnel decisions. He has chided the media for its impatience. And, yes, he has challenged the fans to show more support than they have -- although Orlando has sold out every home game the last two-plus years and had the fourth best home record in the Eastern Conference at 29-12 (not the best in the Stan Van Gundy era, but still not poor).
It makes this latest twist somewhat different, at least in the eyes of Jovan Buha of Hardwood Paroxysm. He sees this move of targeting the fans to be pretty odd for a player trying to avoid LeBron James' PR pitfalls.
"If you want to leave Orlando, do it for greener pastures, not better fans," Buha writes. "If the atmosphere is boring, which it may be, do something about it. Figure out a way to increase fan attendance and activity. Make the 'D-fence' chants louder. But don't complain and isolate your customers; especially not now. Howard normally epitomizes his Superman persona to a tee, but publicly criticizing the citizens he serves to protect is far from anything the Man of Steel would do."
You could certainly read it that way -- thus the headline "Howard Attacks His Fans." You could also read it another way -- such as "Howard Challenges His Fans."
Howard seems to be challenging just about everyone in the organization right now to be better. That goes for management, his teammates, himself and, yes, his supporters. This team was not a championship contender last year and that is where Dwight wants to be (and he will be there even if it is not in Orlando). So maybe this is his way of trying to lead and push his team and organization to be better.
Certainly feels like an odd way to do it -- Buha was joined by Ben Golliver of Eye on Basketball and Mike Prada of SBNation in criticizing Howard for going after the fans.
This is not a new issue with Howard. Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM suggested earlier this summer Howard wants the Magic to put him front and center and be an icon of the city after going into other cities and seeing a Kobe Bryant or a Derrick Rose plastered everywhere in the city. I have also personally heard Dwight complaining during the pregame media availability in January about fans wearing opposing jerseys making noise in the new arena and getting seats close to the court -- he even specifically mentioned season ticket holders with courtside seats showing up in Boston jerseys for the Christmas Day game.
He wants to build something in orlando for sure. But if it can't be done, it can't. That might be his ultimate point in this challenge: Support the Magic fully or this is not going to be a place I (and other superstars) want to stay. That might be asking a lot -- asking much more than any star player has asked of fans.
But only Dwight himself knows his true motivations and desires when it comes to the July 2012.
Photos via DayLife.com.