Denton: Market Size Hasn't Hindered D12's Success or Fame

By John Denton
December 13, 2011

ORLANDO – Last spring, a couple of hours before the Orlando Magic were about to face the Atlanta Hawks in a critical playoff game, Dwight Howard turned philosophical about his future.

Howard told anyone who would listen that there was no solid reason for him to leave Orlando for bigger media markets when he can become a free agent after the 2011-12 season. After all, Howard said, he had already accomplished so much worldwide in Orlando despite not playing in Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Chicago.

``The biggest market of all is outside of the United States,’’ Howard said, referring to China, where he’s visited three times the past two summers. ``In today’s NBA you can get anything you want (in terms of endorsements) and you don’t have to play in a big market.’’

Howard has since changed his stance somewhat in the first week of training camp with the Magic, oscillating between wanting to remain in Orlando long term and requesting a trade from the only franchise that he’s ever played for in the NBA. The daily Howard saga has created quite a stir locally with Magic loyalists, and nationally as well from franchises and fanbases who want to get a piece of the game’s most dominant center.

Howard admitted recently that he’s been torn emotionally as to what direction he wants his career to head for a variety of reasons. He said his love for Orlando and the Magic’s fans will never wane, and regardless of what happens he’ll always keep his mansion in nearby Lake Mary for years to come as a home. But on the other hand, there’s also the lure of the big city and off-the-court chances markets such as New York and Los Angeles could provide.

``I’ve struggled with the decision all summer,’’ Howard admitted. ``The biggest part is that I love the city of Orlando and all of the people here. So that’s been something that’s really difficult about it all.’’

There are other factors, of course, as to why Howard feels the pull of the Magic and seems to be having second thoughts about leaving Orlando.

The Magic took a chance of Howard in the 2004 NBA Draft, selecting him first overall when he was an 18-year-old high school student. Since then he’s gone onto remarkable success on and off the court to become one of the most recognizable faces in the sport.

And one of the primary points to make – as Howard was stressing last spring before that playoff game in Atlanta – is that he’s risen to fame while playing in a mid-sized city such as Orlando. Orlando’s media market, which also includes Daytona Beach and Melbourne, is the 19th largest media market in the United States.

Here is a look at some of Howard’s accomplishments on and off the court in the past seven seasons:

  • He secured national endorsements with powerhouses such as McDonald’s, Gatorade, Adidas and T-Mobile, giving him one of the most diversified and impressive portfolios among any NBA player.
  • He’s twice appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and once on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. He also made his silver screen debut last fall when he had a supporting role in the movie, ``Just Wright.’’
  • He’s become the first player in NBA history to win the Defensive Player of the Year award three consecutive seasons. He’s also been an All-NBA first-teamer each of the past four seasons, something no other Magic player has ever done.
  • He’s finished in the top five of the MVP voting each of the past four seasons, including a runner-up finish last spring. He won a gold medal in the 2008 summer Olympics with Team USA.
  • And his popularity among all-star players is unquestioned. He captured the imagination of the basketball world when he soared to the 2008 Slam Dunk title. As an all-star, he’s been named to the team five times and has started each of the last four seasons. He set the all-time record for votes in 2009 and led the Eastern Conference in votes in 2011. And with the 2012 game in Orlando, Howard could push his record for all-star votes to dizzying heights.

Magic CEO Alex Martins said he is somewhat troubled by the recent history of star players forcing their way out of mid-to-medium-sized markets to get to NBA teams in bigger cities. LeBron James left Cleveland and Chris Bosh bolted from Toronto for Miami in the summer of 2010, while Carmelo Anthony forced a trade from Denver to New York in a saga that engulfed much of last season.

Martins said that Howard’s success in Orlando over the past seven years is proof that his star power is so bold that he doesn’t have to be in a large city to thrive.

``As a small-to-mid-sized markets, you don’t like to see what’s going on, but I also think winning organizations and great cultures have every opportunity to keep their players. We’ve created a winning culture here and Dwight has grown up in this organization and I honestly believe that Dwight wants to play out his career here,’’ Martins said on Monday. ``I think there’s an opportunity in this day and age for superstar athletes to carry a city on their shoulders. That’s the opportunity that Dwight has right now and in Orlando and hopefully that’s the decision that he ultimately makes.’’

Howard knows that his decision as to whether to stay in Orlando or leave for another city will impact fans and teams in a major way. He said the way he’s played for seven years and the love that he’s shown Orlando with his work in the community shows how much he loves Central Florida.

Howard said the two weeks leading up to training camp, when he formally introduced his trade request, were so stressful that he didn’t sleep well and made himself sick. That indecision is a product of his love for Orlando, he stressed, and how difficult it is for him to leave the Magic.

``I’ve done everything for this city. I don’t think people understand the magnitude of the love that I have for this city. It goes beyond basketball,’’ he said. ``For me, this hasn’t just been a city that I love playing basketball in, and that’s why it’s been so tough. This is not about basketball as much as people think it is. I’ve been back and forth because the people here care for this city and this team. Nobody will ever fully understand that. If you hate me because of a jersey then you never really loved me. But regardless of what happens I’ll always love Orlando.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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