For the past couple seasons the NBA has had a clearly defined villain. LeBron James represented everything that makes a player fun to hate. After his disastrous switch from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat culminating in smoke machines and stage dancing with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, he handily won the bad-guy crown away from any of the other wannabe bad-guys like Amar’e Stoudemire, Ron Artest or Kobe Bryant.
The next two years were a tumultuous time for LeBron as the Media painted a portrait of a prodigiously talented 20-something that had no self-awareness or mental fortitude and couldn’t get it done in the playoffs.
With Miami’s decisive finals series against Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder displaying a side to LeBron we hadn’t seen before, determined, peaceful, cold-blooded, it’s clear that his image going into next season will be at least marginally repaired. He’s no longer LeFail. He proved he’s clutch and there’s zero doubt that he’s the best two-way player in the NBA. His hunt for that elusive title has ended and he gets to move into phase three of his inevitable hall-of-fame career.
While that’s good news for Miami fans and their army of bandwagoners, for the rest of us hoops heads it means there’s a vacancy to be filled. If you’re not a Heat fan, chances are you spent the last two years passionately rooting for LeBron’s failure, but that’s no fun anymore. He got his title; he’s the best, fine.
So where do we turn our seemingly necessary hatred as a basketball culture?
It’s kind of obvious right?
Superman himself Dwight Howard seems to have, on-cue, stepped into that bad-guy spotlight. I can’t think of a better fit.
The amount of flip-flopping Howard did this summer could have won him a spot on the US Women’s Gymnastic team. He dragged the city of Orlando through a year of “Will he? Won’t he?” antics that eventually led to the Magic settling for a trade that shipped him to the Los Angeles Lakers (easily the most hate-able franchise of all time) and landed them a poop-fest of players that featured a center-piece of Arron (whaaa?) Afflalo. Womp Womp Womp.
Before they could clear Howard’s poisonous presence from their franchise he managed to get his coach and old general manager fired, turn most of the city against him and management at the same time, and make new Orlando GM Rob Hennigan look like total weak-sauce.
Meanwhile, Howard has cemented the existence of the next super-franchise, that along with Steve (how could you?) Nash, Kobe (we haven’t forgotten about that smug little sneer, buddy) Bryant and Pau (I wanna punch his ostrich face) Gasol will surely be an immediate contender for both the most unlikeable team of all time title and the national title.
You may be asking, “But Ian, aren’t you just a bitter Rockets fan that’s upset about Orlando turning down your insanely good trade pieces and super-valuable picks and going with a 4-teamer that totally clowned them with a big serving of Arron Afflalo to the face?”
Yeah, I am, but for me, and fans of basketball in general, life would be a lot easier if we could just create some kind of unified anti-Howard, anti-Laker front.
If you can’t jump on the hatred bandwagon for me and my Rockets loving constituents, then do it for the people of Orlando. If not for the people of Orlando, then for former Magic Head Coach, Stan van Gundy. The list of reasons for rooting against Howard could go on infinitely, I’m just asking that the Media and fans of the NBA to do the right thing.
We all need a bad guy. Bill Laimbeer is gone. Wilt is gone. Amare is irrelevant. Lebron has served his time.
Dwight, you’re on deck.