By Barry Janoff
September 3, 2012: Dwight Howard and the city of Orlando did not have a friendly breakup.
Now, the NBA all-star center is looking to rebuild some of the damage he left behind when his protracted departure from the Magic culminated with his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard took out a full-page advertisement in the Orlando Sentinel on Sunday, Sept. 2, in which he professed his love for Orlando and the fans he played in front of for eight seasons. Whether or not he added insult to injury with the ad remains to be seen.
The ad has "Dwight Howard" written in large print across the top, under which is a collage of photos showing Howard in better times with fans. That is followed by Howard's 88-word ode to his time in the city:
"To play the game of basketball in the NBA is a blessing and to have had the opportunity to play before the Orlando fans for eight years was truly a privilege and and honor.
"Words cannot express the love that I have for Orlando. With your support we have done great things in this city from hanging banners to impacting our youth.
"Although my career with the Magic has come to a close, my love for the city and the people that make it beautiful will never end."
Howard went straight from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy to the Magic in 2004 and during his tenure there was a six-time All-Star and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
He also became one of the league's most marketable players, with endorsement deals in excess of $10 million that currently include adidas, McDonald's and Mission Athletecare.
But his departure from Orlando came with serious damage to his image, beginning during the 2010-11 season when he publicly wavered between signing a contract extension or leaving as a free agent; then again in 2011-12 when, having signed a one-year deal with Orlando, he hit the lockout-shortened campaign with a request to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets.
Ultimately, Howard followed in the huge footsteps of Shaquille O'Neal, who in 1996 left the Magic as a free agent to sign with the Lakers, where he joined Kobe Bryant to lead the team to consecutive NBA titles in 2000-2001-2002. Unlike O'Neal's departure, where the Magic received nothing in return, Howard's off-season trade — which also involved the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers — included numerous players, money and future draft choices.
Howard was recently in China as part of a tour under the auspices of adidas. His 2011-12 season ended early due to back surgery in April, and his recovery has made the timeline for his return to the court uncertain. According to the 2012-13 NBA schedule, Howard will face the Magic in Los Angeles on Dec. 2, then return to Orlando for the first time as a member of the Lakers on March 12.
Despite the scenario regarding his departure from Orlando, Howard still has numerous fans and the potential for new endorsement deals in Los Angeles. He has more than 3.4 million followers on Twitter but his Web page is under construction as he prepares for his first season with the Lakers.