It was what everyone expected, what Dwight Howard had to expect going when he returned to the Amway Center Tuesday — Magic fans are still angry about how he forced his way out of town, they felt jilted and they looked at Tuesday as their cathartic outlet.
Those fans didn’t miss an opportunity. And this was not a mix of cheers and boos — it was all boos.
Some fans showed up wearing altered Howard jerseys — “Xs” taped over his number, one fan had the “H” in Howard converted to a “C.”
Howard was booed when he led the Lakers out for warm-ups. He was booed every time he touched the ball during lay-up lines (and Howard put on a dunking exhibition rather than lying low in the lines).
Howard even played along and playfully booed the fans back.
One guy interrupted the National Anthem to yell, “Dwight, you suck!” (Via Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.)
Howard was booed during the introductions (as you can see in the video above).
The boos got louder every time he touched the ball in the first quarter, but Howard played through it pretty well with six quick points on 3-of-4 shooting. He had a big block of Tobias Harris — they guy now wearing No. 12 in Orlando.
“Big Baby” Glen Davis was chirping from the Magic bench at Howard and the two of them had a running dialogue that we can’t reprint here.
By the end Howard had owned the game — he had 39 points and been sent to the line 39 times (tying an NBA record), but he hit 25 of those free throws and that propelled the Lakers win, 106-97.
Howard all day talked about trying to move on, saying that he loved Orlando and the fans but what happened in the past was in the past. He echoed that after the game. Of course, it was easier for him to say that with the Lakers having won and played well enough lately to put themselves back playoff chase.
Magic fans had not moved on yet and this was their chance to vent. They wanted to make sure he knew how they felt.
He did. Earlier in the day Howard talked about wanting to go out to dinner in Orlando but deciding to stay in and eat at his home in the area with his family. He knew the reaction in public.
Maybe that will die down in the coming years. But not on Tuesday night.