The Orlando Magic Soap Opera Has Finally Come To An End… For Now

Earlier this month, Orlando’s Local 6 Sports Director David “Ping” Pingalore reported that Dwight Howard told Orlando Magic management that he wanted coach Stan Van Gundy fired. This story “broke” on April 4, and it led to one of the most amazingly awkward interviews in NBA history, when Van Gundy told reporters point blank that he knew Howard tried to have him fired, and then Howard interrupted the interview and put his arm around Van Gundy, completely oblivious to what just happened. Howard’s reaction when the reporters filled him looked a little like this:

The problem with Ping’s report was that it wasn’t anything new. Magic writers like Jarrod Rudolph had reported months ago that Howard wanted Van Gundy out, but it went unnoticed because it hadn’t been preceded by two months of trade deadline drama. Ping’s “sources” – which we’ll discuss in a moment – and their #HOTTGOSS were more timely and convenient for the NBA media that needed something to fill the downtime between the trade deadline and the playoffs. So Ping was heralded for this so-called scoop, and he was given a free pass for his next aimless, unsubstantiated breaking story.

That story, of course, was this week’s report that Howard refused to play for Van Gundy and was faking his herniated disc injury as a protest. Well if that’s true, Howard is the most committed liar since George Costanza, because he is having season-ending surgery that will require four months of recovery.

Dan Fegan, Howard’s agent, said he hopes this development debunks any thoughts that Howard’s back problem was not serious and that he was utilizing it as an excuse not to play.

“Dwight has never laid down once in his entire career,” Fegan said. “It’s absurd that some publicly, and others privately, speculated that Dwight was laying down or quitting. In fact, he was working his hardest to play through an injury which now requires surgery.” (Via ESPN)

I’ll give the media a little credit, because even though sports sites like ESPN and CBS Sports instantly embraced Ping’s latest story, they were also quick to shoot it down with contrarian sources. But what nobody ever reported was that this Ping guy has one hell of a terrible track record of reporting. This season alone, Ping guaranteed that Howard was going to be traded to the Nets and Lakers, and he also guaranteed that Chris Paul was being traded to the Magic.

Hell, he once practically declared Urban Meyer dead when he was the head coach at Florida, and he reported that the Big East was inviting UCF and Memphis a year before it actually happened. Basically, this guy throws a lot of crap at walls, and some of it sticks because of technicalities. All of the crap, though, is juicy enough that it’s attractive to major media outlets and the guys on Around the Horn don’t care if it’s true, because they just need something to shout about.

The point of all of this is that in this short season, Howard has gone from lovable man-child to vilified crybaby, and he owes a lot of that to Ping’s malicious reporting. But I think he owes more to his inability to be honest, as proven by that video of Van Gundy stabbing back. We already know that the media is full of vindictive assholes trying to make names for themselves, but a lot of us still expect athletes to step up and defend themselves by just being honest. Howard’s behavior throughout this season has been so terrible that we actually believe anything that is reported about him now.

For some reason, Howard hasn’t stepped forward to lay it all out and defend himself. He’s lied repeatedly and tried to use his jovial antics as a distraction while pulling a moving truck up to his house. And of course this remarkably dramatic season – which is unparalleled – ended in the only fitting way, with Howard being unable to even fight for the Magic’s longshot return to the NBA Finals.

Before, during and after “The Decision”, as I and many others were painting Lebron James as the ultimate sports villain for turning his back on the city that raised and worshipped him, a commenter forewarned me that I better give Howard this same attention when he leaves the Magic. I stuck by Howard, though, and said that he’d probably leave, but he’d do it right. My prediction was as wrong as one of Ping’s stories.

Someone asked me on Twitter yesterday if Howard is now worse than James. The jury is still out, because Howard hasn’t left the Magic yet. He will. I am convinced a million times over that he’s checked out and ready to join Deron Williams in Dallas next year via trade. Once he is gone, barring one of the most miraculous PR campaigns in sports history, Howard will be worse than James.

James dug his hole because of one hour, while Dwight has dug a canyon over a season, and he has proven that even Superman can be the bad guy.

(My apologies to those of you who have complained about my Orlando Magic rants in the past, but if you don’t think this has been an uncannily noteworthy story this season, then we just have to agree to disagree.)