Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard took a step down a dark and dangerous path over the weekend.
A little more than three months after the Magic were ousted by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, a major disappointment considering the team had advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals the two previous seasons, Orlando's All-Star big man took a swipe at the Amway Center faithful for not doing their part to create a winning environment.
The Orlando Sentinel details a series of tweets in which Howard said he is seeking a more vocal crowd during the regular season.
Howard wrote back, “that upsets me cuz I don’t wait till the playoffs to play hard. I give y’all my best everynite. Y becuz some people don’t get a chance to be at everygame. And I want them to always remember the nite they saw me play. So. I play for y’all. I feed off the fans. ESP at home. It’s a different atmosphere in the playoffs at the arena. That same atmosphere should be during the season.”A few notes for reference.
If you’re not adept at Twitter-speak, Howard said he plays hard every night because he wants every fan to remember the time he or she saw Howard play. Because he’s bringing his best every night, he wants fans to bring playoff intensity every night.
This year, Howard didn’t feel like the fans brought it all the time.
First, during the 2011 NBA season, Amway Center averaged nearly 19,000 fans per home game. The Magic actually played to 102.6% of the stadium's capacity, according to numbers published by ESPN.com. That number was good for fourth in the league, trailing only the Dallas Mavericks (NBA Champions), Chicago Bulls (Eastern Conference Finalists) and Portland Trail Blazers (home to the craziest NBA fans, period).
Second, the Magic finished with a home record of 29-12, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. The only three teams with better home records were the East's top three seeds: The Miami Heat, the Bulls and the Boston Celtics.
In other words, every ticket is sold and the noise of the arena is not impacting wins and losses in any stunningly quantifiable way. The Sentinel suggests that perhaps the layout of the new Amway Center, opened in 2010, makes the arena sound quieter because of the location of luxury boxes. A reasonable hypothesis.
Another reasonable hypothesis? Howard should definitely not take another shot, or anything that can be perceived as a shot, at Magic fans. It's unbecoming for any player set to make $18 million next season to contrast the quality of his performance with the engagement of the crowd's, but it's even worse when that athlete has a track record of griping and has the entire city hanging on his free agency decision next summer. Howard should have learned his lesson when he took unnecessary shots at the Orlando media back in May and he should understand that it might be a wee bit difficult for fans to cheer at maximum volume level when they are chewing on their fingernails, anxious that the one shining star on the roster might decide to pack it up and move out of town.
Unsurprisingly, the fan reaction to Howard's tweets was swift and negative.
"Cry baby – play better and you’ll have better attendance," one commenter wrote. "Sounds like Dwight is continuing to line up excuses why he’s leaving," another said.
Nothing good -- ever -- comes from blaming ticket-paying fans. Howard should turn around and run the other direction as quickly as possible. Otherwise it's bound to get even uglier.