ORLANDO, Fla. - Forgive me, fellow Central Floridians, for what I am about to write:
I have - clearing my throat - actually found myself rooting for Dwight Howard during the NBA playoffs.
Not only that, but - taking a deep breath - I am genuinely OK with Dwight winning a championship with the spoiled, hated, "We don't build championship rosters, we steal our superstars from other teams" Los Angeles Lakers.
Hey, Dwight always said he was going to win a championship in Orlando.
And now, ironically, he's just a few wins away.
Of course, this isn't how it was supposed to happen. More than a decade ago, Dwight was one of the biggest superstars in the NBA and purportedly going to lead the Orlando Magic to a franchise-first championship. Now, he is a role-playing reserve center for the Lakers, trying to win his first title inside of Orlando's Disney bubble.
I guess this is just another example of the weird, whacked-out universe we are living in today. As Florida Gators football coach Dan Mullen said earlier in the week of this pandemic-plagued sports season: "It's like Bizarro World, right? Like Bizarro Jerry if you ever saw that Seinfeld episode."
Except this is Bizarro Dwight - and, yes, us Orlandoans have relived the episode over ... and over ... and over again. It's about a one-time pampered, prima donna superstar who got a beloved coach fired, forced his way out of Orlando and somehow, someway morphed into the ultimate team player willing to accept the most menial role to help the Lakers win a championship.
I still remember that night 11 years ago when Dwight's Magic were eliminated by Kobe's Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals right here in Orlando. After the game, Dwight and his best friend, Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, solemnly sat alone on the Magic bench watching the Lakers' hug and high five and hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy on Orlando's home floor.
Asked afterward why they wanted to watch the Lakers' postgame celebration, Jameer said, "We wanted to experience what it felt like (to lose in the Finals) because we never want to feel this way again."