If there was one obvious lesson to be learned by outside observers of the Dwight Howard mess, it is that he has a deep desire to be loved by everyone. It is why he made the ridiculous move to opt-in to a season in Orlando he really had no intention of playing as a member of the Magic.
From there, everything played out like it did (no need for me to rehash that mess) and it culminated with Dwight in Los Angeles. And now, as a member of the Lakers, Dwight sat down to discuss everything in detail for the first time. One thing he brought up, the lesson he learned:
"That's one of the lessons that I learned, you know. I can't make everybody happy," Howard told Bucher, in an interview for ESPN's "Sunday Conversation."
"And it was a tug of war between my feelings and the fans and everybody else and their feelings and what happened to LeBron. And I saw him — everybody hated him for leaving Cleveland and what he did," Howard said of LeBron James' free-agent move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat in 2010. "I never wanted anybody to hate me, you know. I wanted everybody to love me, you know, like me, for sticking around and doing what they wanted me to do. And making everybody else happy. And that was a valuable lesson for me, you know.
"I can't make everybody happy."
On the surface, it sounds like a tough lesson learned through a tough situation. The problem is, I just don't buy it.
The reason is I am not sure he totally understands why LeBron was hated for leaving Cleveland. I am not sure he truly gets that it was the WAY he left Cleveland that made things much worse. Because if he truly understood that it was "The Decision" much more than the decision, he would not have opted back in. If he understood that it was the spectacle of LeBron's departure rather than the specter of life after LeBron's departure that made everything so… SO much worse, then this would not have gone down like this.
To Dwight, the lesson he thinks he learned was "you can't make everyone happy," which is a true statement and something everyone should understand as they travel through their paths of life. But the full lesson Dwight fails to grasp is that while you cannot make everyone happy, you can carry yourself in a certain, consistent way that will allow more people to respect a decision with which they don't agree.
Dwight could certainly have decided a year ago (or longer) that he was done in Orlando. He could have then carried himself as a professional adult human being and eschewed the rumors, the leaks, the specific list of teams with whom he would play, and the countless other crazy things that defined the debacle. And while the spotlight would never go away, he could have stopped trying to make everyone love him for the wrong reasons, and respect him for the right ones.
There was no totally clean way out of Orlando for Dwight. He certainly wasn't going to make everyone happy. But if he had truly seen the LeBron "Decision" mess for what it was, he would have prevented himself from looking worse. And let's be clear here… what Dwight did was much, MUCH worse.
The NBA is a business and, for reasons fans often cannot understand, relationships between some players and some teams have to come to an end much earlier than many might expect. That is going to happen again to some other big name. But the thing that big name needs to understand the true lesson in all of this: do not treat the fans like they are idiots.
Yeah, some fans might act like idiots, and a couple of them might actually be idiots, but the vast majority of fans just want to believe in their team and that the players on that team love their city as much as they do. And when that is not the case anymore, just be honest and be respectful. You are breaking up with them, and playing games just makes the situation worse.
Dwight may have learned a basic lesson from this. He might have gotten his first taste that being universally adored is a pipe dream.
But he still does not know why. He does not understand deeper meaning behind the lesson, nor does he grasp the greater lesson of this mess. If he does not truly grasp it soon, do not be surprised to see him make the same mistake again.