|Magic center Dwight Howard faced a huge media crowd on All-Star Friday. (Sergio Gonzalez)|
ORLANDO -- Dwight Howard did his best to dodge the trade talk, but when the questions kept coming, he took cover behind the only NBA story bigger than his future with the Orlando Magic: Linsanity.
"The situation right now is All-Star Weekend," Howard said, when asked for the latest on impending free agency and trade demand. "That's the only thing that matters right now. This is the moment -- this is All-Star Weekend. We're going to have fun and we're going to enjoy ourselves. All that stuff can go on after All-Star Weekend."
Howard drew by far the largest media crowd on All-Star Friday, with more than a dozen cameras and dozens of reporters crowded together to hear the latest updates regarding his happiness with the city, his relationship with the city's fans, and everything else. Sizing up the scene, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who dealt with the media's obsessesion with "Melodrama" during the 2011 All-Star Weekend, shook his head and shouted to Howard, "Thanks."
The questions kept coming, and, after picking Jeremy Evans to win the Slam Dunk Contest and teammate Ryan Anderson to win the Three-Point Contest, Howard didn't wait very long to pull out his ace card.
"Right now, my focus is on having a great time and being a great host with all these great players around us. This is Jeremy Lin's first All-Star. I'm going to make sure I get with him and have some fun with Jeremy Lin."
The tactic worked fairly well, as the floodgate of Lin inquiries opened wide. The NBA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year said that he's been impressed with the play of the Knicks' sensational guard, but made it clear he is relishing the opportunity to bring him back down to Eath.
"I think it's one of the best stories... It's crazy," Howard said. "He's all over the place. Every time you turn on the TV it's something about Lin, which is great. I'm happy for him. He's been playing great basketball. The Knicks are winning so a lot of people are happy. He hasn't went up against the Great Wall of Orlando yet. We'll see what happens then."
Despite Howard's best efforts, the questions kept popping back up, although the scene was more conversational than confrontational as Howard played the "host" card, talked up the Magic's playoff chances, and complimented Magic fans many times. Howard said the Magic have "an opportunity just like every other team in the NBA to win a championship" and pointed out that Orlando has the NBA's fifth best record.
"I don't care about none of the other stuff that's being said," Howard repeated. "We're going to have fun this weekend. We're going to show everybody our city. All the other stuff can wait."
Asked again about his contract situation, Howard put down his fist. "We're not going to talk about it."
Howard appeared relaxed, but tired, and said he was operating on three hours of sleep. He noted that he's hosting parties in Orlando all weekend long and joked to one reporter that he didn't meet the appropriate height requirement to be invited and that he looked like a character from Jersey Shore.
The joking was a bit off-key and not met with the hearty laughs that the charismatic Howard often receives. Perhaps the subtext of tension between Howard and the media that has covered him like a blanket this season was trickling in. Howard made a point of mentioning that media accounts of a stressed relationship with Magic fans are not representative of his day-to-day interactions around Orlando, which he also referred to as "my city."
"A lot of the fans here are just, 'Whatever you decide to do we're behind you 100 percent.' They've been great despite what people may say or think. The fans here have always been great to me. I really appreciate it. They've shown me nothing but love since day one. I've done the same thing. The city means a lot to me."
Those comments probably make fans in Cleveland cringe, after hearing a similar refrain from LeBron James before he left to team up with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat during the Summer of 2010. Howard didn't totally distance himself from James, who was seated nearby with less than half of the media attention that Howard received.
"LeBron did it his way, he did what was best for him," Howard concluded. "I will do what's best for Dwight."