Judas

AP Photo/John Raoux

Over a 7 year span in a black forest far far away, a robust web was masterfully intertwined by two separate orb weavers producing a strong gossamer which could only be destroyed by fire. Equal responsibility was shouldered fairly between the inseparable duo – routinely every morning, amongst the dew and heavy fog, the weavers would examine the swarm of fresh catch that littered every surface of the web. After locating and wrapping the prey, they feasted upon it. It was their order to survival in a particularly remote region that was used to harsh conditions.

Then, the feeding stopped – their stomachs hollowed.

The other insects eventually became stronger and smarter, managing to elude their traps entirely. When the little weaver slept, the bigger weaver worked on expanding the web, although his eyes would often gaze upon a gleaming object in the distance until he shook himself out of the daydream-like state. “I.. I.. have to go.” he finalized in his mind to himself one star-studded night.

The next morning, big weaver was gone. The smaller weaver left to fend alone, against all odds. His future uncertain.

**

1983.

Jameer Nelson as we know him was forged out of the molten steel of Chester, Pennsylvania. A city that has recently been put in a “State of Emergency” and infamously known its violence and homicide, with an ugly distinction of being one of the most dangerous cities in America.  The ever-dwindling population from the 1960’s serves as a muted harbinger of trouble – for Jameer Nelson it wasn’t a question of wanting to get out, it was a need.

He made it out.

1985.

2 years later in a place a little more sunny: Atlanta, Georgia, Dwight Howard was born in the face of a 0% prospect. His mother, Sheryl Howard, had a total of 7 miscarriages before he was born – thus giving him the nickname of “Miracle Child”.

He made it out.

**

Their paths to a basketball safe-haven were almost Barack Obama/Mitt Romney level different, but the two ultimately ended up exactly where they wanted to be without the help of ugly politicking. Jameer Nelson attended 4 years of college at Saint Joseph’s University, manning the team (with the help of Delonte West and Pat Carroll) to a 27-0 record, collected Naismith Player of the year honors, the Oscar Robertson Trophy, and the John Wooden award all in one season. His number is now retired and proudly hanging in the rafters. He declared for the draft after his senior season and then promptly slid to the 20th pick overall in the 2004 NBA Draft, after the likes of Luke Jackson, Robert Swift, Kirk Snyder and Rafael Araujo. Welcome to the NBA, Jameer! A place where you have to earn your stripes all over again while team owners never respected the stripes you’ve collected in the first place.

Dwight Howard was a dominant High School player at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and averaged 25/18/8 blocks his senior year. Dwight Howard lead his team to the 2004 state title, and likewise was garnished with plenty of awards – the Naismith Prep Player of the year award, the Morgan Wootten High School player of the year, Gatorade Player of the year, and McDonald’s National High School Player of the year. He chose to forgo college (although he has since mentioned he thought about attending either North Carolina or Duke) and went straight to the NBA. The Orlando Magic managed to avoid Emeka Okafor, chose Dwight Howard (a debated pick at the time) and ended up with the best High School and College player in the same draft. Not a bad haul indeed.

This is where the story of Judas begins.

I want to avoid any other religious allegory of Judas pertaining to Dwight Howard, we all know what happens to Judas – this is just my simple definition of a traitor in every sense of the word. A man with all of the faith in the world that left a city with none in his wake.

Mighty Mouse and Superman practically grew up with each other in NBA life. It was like they were made specifically to be teammates. Dwight was sturdy, indestructible. Jameer, fragile and injury prone. However, the heart he had was more than apparent and nobody could question that. Jameer displayed leadership mentality in a body size that just always seemed 3 inches a little too short for people to take serious. Jameer, not Dwight, was the one that hosted a non-mandatory “team building” camp during every offseason that many players attend so that they could bond and gain extra chemistry before the start of the regular season. Jameer, not Dwight, more often than demanded that the rock be in his hands so that he could make or miss the buzzer beating shot (until Hedo came around) and attempt to seal the deal. When he was drafted, Dwight Howard was a player that got away with raw talent alone, although his on court demeanor and attitude has invoked criticism to this day. Howard is a devout Christian and religious man (he once wanted a cross over the NBA logo). Jameer Nelson was always his bigger, little brother that has been through his fair share of rough times. Saint Joseph, whom his college was named after, was known as “the guardian”. It’s an apt comparison for Jameer’s role in his relationship with Dwight.

The pair certainly took their lumps with the Orlando Magic, but with each season came a learning curve that benefitted them for the next season. As they grew, so did the wins. 36, 36, 40, 52, 59, 59, 52. Brian Hill and his slow paced, turnover heavy offense was no longer a deterrent – he was out of the picture. The Detroit Pistons iron-wall suddenly became a melted afterthought. The NBA Finals became an actual landing strip instead of Atlantis. This Orlando team found ways around their problems, it was their modus operandi.

“Superman” would have never came to be without Jameer Nelson playing wingman, his trusty sidekick in each and every one of his 3 dunk contest appearances. The spotlight, like always, was on Dwight, while the ball was thrown from a shadowy area on the court, but always exactly where he needed it. Dwight would soak in all of the attention, Jameer would chest-bump him in a congratulatory manner and the two would be on their way toward the second half of the season after their annual all-star gimmickry. They even made a commercial together for the dunk contest.

Before Dwight Howard became the mutual target of hatred for all Central Floridians, Jameer Nelson took the brunt of verbal abuse and scapegoat blame amongst Orlando Magic fans. You know, it says something when a player comes back 4 months ahead of schedule from a torn labrum. Call it greed or stupidity, but to me it shows the passion and risk that one individual is willing to take in order to win it all. It could’ve affected his career, and maybe he shouldn’t have been cleared in the first place, but you can’t tell a competitor to sit down if he feels he could contribute. The result wasn’t good. Nelson played poorly, Alston pouted, and the Orlando Magic blamed it on a missed layup. The rumblings of a Jameer Nelson trade became louder and louder but there was one humongous catch in the scenario: Dwight Howard. To the fans and organization, trading Jameer meant the death knell of Dwight Howard in Orlando. You couldn’t touch his best friend.

What a lot of people seem to forget is that during the 2009 Finals, Dwight Howard was still not a complete offensive player. He wasn’t a go to guy. He had one game of 1-6 shooting. The other 4 games, he never made over 5 field goals and only once scored over 20 points. He still had a limited array of moves around the basket before he “perfected” his trusty left hook, and was the streakiest free throw shooter in blue this side of Martin Lawrence.

Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard watched from the bench while every other teammate was in the locker room. They wanted to see how the Lakers celebrated, they wanted to feel the pain so that when their time came, it would be that much sweeter to soak in. Now that I look back, maybe the blank stare from Dwight Howard was him secretly envying that he was on that Lakers team. Jameer is still fighting the Lakers in his sleep, sans the rusted arm.

Dwight Howard the quasi-leader never wanted to shoulder the offensive load until 6 seasons into his career. His 2010-2011 season was arguably his best from an offensive standpoint, averaging 23 points per game and he was the same old juggernaut on defense, adding another DPOY trophy to his mantlepiece.

When the winning stopped, the whining came quickly – it was out of nowhere shortly before the lockout season and after the disappointing round one loss against the Atlanta Hawks. Maybe the upset stewed in his brain during the offseason a little too long. Maybe Stan Van Gundy was just too “mean” for his psyche. Only Dwight knows the ultimate truth.

Now that I look back, the signs were always there. When he first came into the league, not once did people ever think he would lead the league in technicals or have to sit out games because of them. He was the furthest thing from Rasheed Wallace. True, the beatings that he does take on the basketball court is far more than any other center has to deal with, but his mental fortitude had disappointed the team way too many times in his career, especially by picking them up in pivotal moments of a game. I also don’t watch to judge his personal life, I can care less if he was Wilt Chamberlain or Magic Johnson, but when such a god-fearing, outspoken Christian comes into the league as the NBA version of Tim Tebow (before Tim Tebow), I don’t exactly conjure images in my head of Dwight Howard showing his junk to pornstars or fathering 4 different children with 4 baby mothers. Again, I’m not trying to destroy his character – by all accounts he’s been wonderful to the Orlando area when it comes to helping kids, building playgrounds, donating to hospitals, visiting sick children. It’s just the sort of hypocrisy I could never wrap my head around when observing him. His manufactured personality has soured past the expiration date.

The grating process of trade demands could only go on so long before teammates started to react negatively. He started to campaign for certain players to arrive in Orlando, some of them being point guards which clearly couldn’t sit well with Jameer, he had to grin and bare it while still being the team captain. Well, until he couldn’t take it anymore.

When Dwight Howard was dealing with his injured back, Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard apparently got into an altercation during practice. It was the last straw. It wasn’t a situation of how two brothers could fight and then make up not even 20 minutes after, the animosity (from all accounts) felt palpable. We all know the rest of the story, the Dwight Howard saga lasted months longer than it needed to, and he was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Not once did he ever seem to expand on his trade demands other than a “lack of trying to build a competitive team”. Are you kidding me, Dwight? The front office never accomplished much, but there’s a difference between trying and failing and not trying at all. The team improved leaps and bounds every single year until recently. When the going got tough, Dwight left. The finger never once pointed at himself, a player with a fair share of flaws.  He decided to become a mixture of the two players he liked to mock the most: Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James.

I remember reading polls on NBA.com a few years back on “Who will stay with their franchise the longest?” Dwight Howard was voted at the top. He uttered the phrase “Me and Mickey Mouse will be here forever!” We built him a new building. He was Orlando’s son and had the key to the city in his back pocket at all times. He threw it in Lake Eola. He never wanted to be the villain or the bad guy, he wanted to be that loyal player that brought a championship to Orlando. He left the city after getting back surgery in Los Angeles and never stepped foot back in it. When the trade was finalized, he took out a front page ad that was completely insincere and at this point, unwanted. I’m pretty sure Adonal Foyle left a more heartfelt goodbye letter when he left the team.

The bitterness will always be there. He tore down his jersey from the rafters himself.  On the verge of breaking ground, he instead broke a bond with a group of players that thought the world of him.

Once a quitter, always a quitter. Orlando will never forgive him until the day he retires. A sentence I never thought I would have to write.

Jameer can sum up my feeling of Dwight Howard better than I can. When asked about his favorite superhero, he replied: “Well, it used to be Superman, but not anymore.”

Maybe the 12 that was going to be retired should instead be a 14.

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