Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dwight Howard Trade: Coming to Terms with It from the Viewpoint of a Little Kid

The majority of people who get involved in sports media start as huge sports fans, usually at a young age.

That statement holds true for me as well.

So when I flipped on SportsCenter and watched a snippet of Dwight Howard speaking at his press conference following his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers the fan in me couldn’t help but come out, specifically the little kid in me.

Now, Dwight Howard has done nothing to me personally. He seems like a nice guy, even if he does have a little trouble making up his mind. He gives back to the community. The adult and objectionable journalist in me understands that this man made a decision on what he wanted to do with his life that was perfectly legal.

The biased little kid in me, however, felt betrayed. That little kid thought back to the last time he felt so strongly against a player: when the Phillies traded third baseman Scott Rolen.

When Scott Rolen made his Major League debut with the Phillies, the team that drafted him, I was in first grade. It was the first year I started paying attention to professional sports and the Phillies were my team. I listened to the game broadcasts on the radio on the beach in afternoon games and watched the games on television by night.

The next year was his official rookie season and it was the first time I saw a baseball game live. It was 1997, the first year there was Interleague play. It was the Phillies against the New York Yankees at Veterans Stadium. Curt Schilling against Hideki Irabu. Scott Rolen was playing third base and it was an incredibly hot day out. The Phillies won. It’s a day I’ll always remember, and Rolen played a part in it.

He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1997 and I couldn’t be happier that my guy on my team was getting recognized; and this was when the Phillies were the cellar-dwellars of Major League Baseball.

Over the years I would watch Rolen come up with big hits, make incredible diving stops and showcase his arm and throw a runner out. One year for Halloween I even wore a Phillies hat and jersey and taped “Rolen” and “17” on my back as my costume.

Then in 2002 he was traded. He had made it clear he was unhappy in Philadelphia, that he didn’t think the management was making the right moves in order to win, told everyone he would leave the team via free agency and rejected a huge contract offer.

Not wanting to lose him for nothing, the Phillies traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals. And just like that he was no longer my guy. He was a traitor.

I felt jilted, rejected. What my thirteen-year-old self thought was that by Rolen refusing to play for the Phillies it meant that he was refusing to play for me, in front of me. All those memories we “shared” of me watching him, growing up with him, rooting for him were for nothing. He threw them away by forcing his way out.

I booed him when the Phillies played against him. When I would play baseball video games and Rolen would come up to bat I would bean him in the head. It was how I treated someone that betrayed me.

Now over time my feelings have softened. The Phillies moved on without him, brought up a bunch of other guys that they drafted that I could grow up with (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and Cole Hamels) and won a World Series. Now when I see Rolen make his patented diving stop and throw across the diamond I forget the hate, smile and think back to the good times I had watching him do it in a Phillies uniform.

Now back to Dwight Howard. I have been an Orlando Magic fan since the first grade as well (I marveled at Shaq’s skill and fell in love with his fun-loving ways). Shaq was one of my favorites and Dwight Howard was just as special.

He played the game with so much power but always had a smile on his face. There were the Superman moments at the Slam Dunk contest. I defended him to my friends about how he should be the league MVP. Just all his sillyness, impromptu dance competitions and thunderous slam dunks. I went to an Orlando Magic-New Jersey Nets game in New Jersey with my girlfriend in January 2011. We watched Dwight come out of the game—an Orlando blowout—and hang out on the end of the Magic bench with Jameer Nelson and secretly eat a hot dog. When the game ended he walked past our section and threw his shoe into the stands and it landed a seat over from our seats (what a mob it was of people fighting for that!).

But then there was last season. The trade rumors. The refusal to sign an extension. The famous smile was gone. It didn’t look like Howard was having fun anymore. There was the bickering with Stan van Gundy. And then there was the back injury that sidelined him for the end of the season and the Magic crashed and burned out of the playoffs.

The end was coming and I had come to terms with that as a fan. Maybe it was the fact that he was gone for the end of the season and playoffs and that you hadn’t heard from him himself in the media that I just got used to him being around.

But then he popped up in this press conference. He was smiling. He was making jokes. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “he wasn’t doing this last year.”

And then he said, “I’m happy to be a Laker. I’m so excited.”

The little kid in me perked up. “You’re happy? You found someone better? Was me rooting for you not enough?”

Silly, yes, but sometimes we can’t hide those moments when sports bring out the little kid in us: all the joy in winning, the disappointment in losing, and the childish response to grown men making perfectly normal decisions on choosing where to work and what organization will make them happiest—really the same decision I am attempting to make in my professional career.

Just like anything in pop culture—movies, television, music—we invest time in sports, we invest interest in sports, we allow ourselves and our emotions to escape and run free in sports and what we invest in are the memories: the moments that put us in awe, where we were and who we experienced them with.

All summer in my house my family has asked me where Dwight was going. When he was traded my mom and one of my brothers texted me. We talked about the memories we had watching him play or his interviews and we laughed.

Memories and shared experiences that were brought on by sports and in this case, Dwight Howard. So in this case I’ll allow the kid in me to come out a little and tell him it’s ok to feel a bit spurned. I’ll let myself feel that strongly because it means that there are some strong emotions and memories tied to Dwight being in Orlando.

And creating those memories in the first place is the great thing about sports in general.

Photo Credits.
Dwight Howard:  AP Photo/Reed Saxon
Scott Rolen: AP Photo/Chris Gardner

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