By Barry Janoff
February 27, 2012: It should have been a weekend dominated by the presence of Dwight Howard of the hometown Orlando Magic.
Instead, it was Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder who took over, not only playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando on Feb. 26, but also participating in earlier events such as the Three-Point Contest and coaching in the Sprint All-Star Celebrity Game, as well as starring in a new commercial for Sprint and for the NBA's "BIG" campaign and being featured in another for BBVA.
Howard coached against Duncan in the Celebrity Game on Feb. 24 and was seen courtside during the All-Star Saturday Night events. But it was Derrick Rose who adidas chose to feature in a series of activations and not fellow adidas spokesman Howard. And it was Durant who scored 36 points (to go with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals) in the All-Star Game and was named MVP, while Howard had nine points and ten rebounds.
Is this another significant signal that Howard is on his way out of Orlando via trade before he becomes a free agent at the end of this NBA season? It certainly seems that way.
Trade talks involving Howard have focused on three teams — the Los Angeles Lakers, the soon-to-be-Brooklyn Nets and the Dallas Mavericks — but the Magic would have been shooting themselves in the foot had they pulled the trigger on a deal prior to hosting All-Star festivities, and then have had to endure Howard's return in an opposing team's uniform.
For his part, Howard was politically correct during the weekend, seemingly not counting down the days to the NBA's March 15 trade deadline. “I just want to have fun," he said during player gatherings with the media. "This is All-Star weekend, it’s in Orlando and let’s forget about that stuff for a couple days and let’s focus on what’s here. Instead of worrying about trades [let's focus on] what’s going on.”
Meanwhile, Durant was all the rage during the weekend. In the 30-second Sprint spot, which broke in time to coincide with the NBA's mid-season All-Star break, Durant is shown in his OKC uniform explaining a recent play.
"Man, I was double-teamed, with no one to pass it to, so I pull it up and hit the shot for the win," Durant explains as we see the action play out. "And you didn't see it.
"It's the data-playing role - always stressing about overages," the All-Star forward bemoans. "I get that. But seriously - you chose to download 'Doodle Jump' instead of streaming my shot. "Doodle Jump!?"
Text then offers, "Avoid a data dilemma," while Durant says, "Man, that's messed up."
A voiceover confirms, "Switch to Sprint, the only network with truly unlimited data."
Sprint is in the first year of a four-year deal with the NBA, under which it replaced T-Mobile as the league's official wireless communications partner. Earlier Sprint-NBA commercials featured generic shots of game action.
As for Howard: He took the floor prior to the All-Star Game, won by the West, 152-149, and with microphone in hand told fans that Orlando was "my city, my home." How long that holds true remains to be seen.