Denton: Once Close, Dwight & Jameer's Relationship Now Scarred

By John Denton
March 12, 2013

ORLANDO -- They were once inseparable fixtures of the Orlando Magic – Jameer Nelson being the ``Mighty Mouse’’ to Dwight Howard’s ``Superman,’’ and Nelson the cagy perimeter player to complement Howard’s bruising force on the interior.

They were drafted together in 2004, survived rebuilding the franchise together, won a dunk contest together and cried together on the bench when the Magic lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals. They were usually always together – whether it was yucking it up in the locker room, running pick and rolls or alley-oop plays or colliding head-to-head in 2005 that left the much-smaller Nelson with a nasty scar over his left eye that remains today.

But time – and a few sleights along the way – have done quite a number on the Howard/Nelson bond that once was strong and once coursed through the veins of the Magic for eight seasons. The relationship between the two once extremely close friends is so damaged now that when Howard tried calling Nelson earlier this week, the message went unreturned.

``We haven’t (talked), but I have reached out to him,’’ Howard said Tuesday morning as he returned to the Amway Center for the first time since forcing a trade from the Magic to the Lakers. ``We haven’t talked.’’

Howard irked Nelson, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and several former Magic players such as J.J. Redick and Rashard Lewis last week when he referred to his former Magic teammates as ``guys who nobody wanted.’’ Howard always loved to play up the underdog role while in Orlando because few gave the Magic a chance of beating Boston or Cleveland in 2009, and he clearly misspoke when he referred to his teammates in a round-about way as castoffs. He’s since tried to clarify his remarks and apologize to those teammates.

On Tuesday morning, Nelson didn’t want to go into much detail about what has or has not been said between he and Howard. He was then asked if received an apology from Howard, and said: ``I guess publicly. … I’m not looking for apologies.’’

The friendship between Howard and Nelson took a turn for the worse last year when Howard talked publicly about wanting to play with an all-star point guard such as Chris Paul or Chauncey Billups. Howard also pushed for the 2010 trade for Gilbert Arenas, a deal that did not work for the Magic on a variety of levels.

Howard’s trade demand and desire to leave Orlando also didn’t help the relationship between the two once inseparable friends. Nelson said he never begrudged Howard to make a career-based decision. But Nelson, who was an unrestricted free agent last summer before ultimately returning to the Magic, repeatedly pointed out after the December game between the Magic and Lakers that he was one who chose to stay in Orlando.

``I always thought from Day One that he had to make a decision for himself and his family. Whatever that decision was, he had to stick with it and move forward. I always wished him the best,’’ Nelson said. ``You make friends during the course of like on the court and off the court. Some of them stick in your life and some don’t. We still have a lot of life to live and hopefully we can still be friends after basketball.’’

With Howard having defected to the Lakers last summer and injuries, trades and a suspension wiping out others formerly with the Magic, Nelson is the only player remaining on Orlando’s active roster from the past decade. Former Magic power forward Ryan Anderson, who was dealt to New Orleans last summer, recently referred to Nelson as ``The Last Samurai.’’

Added Howard: ``I really haven’t paid too much attention to any other roster but ours. But Jameer is the last one here. The other guys are hurt. I’m happy to see that Jameer is still playing.’’

Showing a maturity that turned the Magic onto him in 2004 when he slipped on draft night before being selected 20th overall by Orlando, Nelson came to the defense of Howard on Tuesday, saying: ``He’s not a bad guy. I don’t see why everybody’s making him out to be a bad guy. We all make mistakes and decisions that we have to deal with.’’

Nelson was asked about not shaking hands with Howard when the two faced off in December and he jokingly said it was because he never made it out to the court in time before the tipoff. But during that game, Nelson did have a playful moment when he buried a first-half shot over Howard and slapped the Lakers’ center on the rear as he ran back up the court.

Nelson said he hopes that there is a time after the two are finished playing basketball when they can be friends once again. He also hopes that in time Magic fans can remember the good times the team had with Howard on the roster and not focus so heavily on the messy divorce from last summer.

``You make friends during the course of life on the court and off the court. Some of them stick in your life and some don’t. We still have a lot of life to live and hopefully we can still be friends after basketball,’’ Nelson said.

``We had way more positive games and positive seasons than what has been put in the media over the last year,’’ the longest-tenured Magic player continued. ``I just want to play (Tuesday), compete and have fun. Obviously there’s some extra incentive because he’s coming back for his first game and what was said in the media a week ago. It’s a good story for you (media) guys, I guess.’’

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