When the Lakers play the Magic on Tuesday, Howard expects the fans to boo him mercilessly just as the fans in Cleveland did upon LeBron James' return to Quicken Loans Arena when his Miami Heat visited the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time since he joined forces with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Though it probably won't be enough to sway Orlando fans' opinions of him, Howard has since apologized for what he put fans in Central Florida through over the course of his last season with the team and went on record as saying that he handled things poorly. Via USA Today:
"I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind - the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me."
Howard is expecting emotions on both sides to run high after he spent his first eight seasons with the Magic. His team made an NBA Finals appearance in 2009, only to lose to the Lakers in five games.
It's easy to understand why emotions would be involved, especially given the way he left. Despite that, his most cold-blooded teammate couldn't disagree more with that sentiment. Via Pro Basketball Talk:
"I'd tear ‘em up," Kobe Byant said. "It's like me going back to Philadelphia for the Finals [in 2001]. They hated me for it, but it is what it is, you know what I mean? They'll appreciate him at the end of his career when it's all said and done. But right now, no matter what he says, they're going to boo him and they're not going to like him right now."
Bryant and Howard couldn't be wired any more differently, and the comments above reflect that. We've all enjoyed the unfiltered curmudgeon Bryant has become as he's grown older, and it makes for some great sound bites (and many expletives) every time he gets in front of a microphone.
Still, he understands the kind of person Howard is and why he would care so much about fans who will show him no sympathy:
"It may be tough for him," Bryant said. "He's a very, very nice kid. He wants to say the right things and please as many people as he can. You can't please everybody, and I'll talk to him about it a little bit before we get down to Orlando and try to put a little of that a-hole in him for the game."
Saying the right things, though, hasn't been one of Howard's strong suits in the recent past.
In addition to waffling on whether or not he wanted to stay with the Magic in the first place, he insulted his teammates when he told reporters after Lakers practice last week that he was the leader of a team full of players "nobody wanted" in an interview with Los Angeles CBS affiliate KCAL9.
He has since doubled back on that and said that he meant no disrespect to his former teammates. Even with the clarification, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick were all critical of his comments. So much so, that it inspired the Orlando Sentinel to go viral with a glorious parody of Cee-Lo's "Forget You" featuring some of the aforementioned players and an outstanding cameo from Shaquille O'Neal.
This is all new for Orlando, but in and around Los Angeles, it's called Tuesday. Still, it should be fun to see what pixels stem from the events surrounding the upcoming game.
In the end, it's all requisite drama when the NBA's most dramatic player joined forces with its most dramatic team in Hollywood. With the circus headed toward Orlando, it's hard to believe there's actually a game to play.
It'll be great theater either way.