Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Two summers ago I moved back to St. Louis where I had spent the first twenty something years of my life. To my surprise, the MLB All-Star Game was scheduled to be played at Busch Stadium. While it wasn’t the Busch Stadium that I had grown up going to, I felt an undeniable heartwarming anticipation about the game. It was a pride thing, to be sure. Fans from all across the country would get to come see my downtown, my stadium, stay at my hotels, dine in my restaurants, and see my All-Star, the prince himself, Albert Pujols.
The day of the game I took the MetroLink down to the stadium with a buddy of mine. We had no intention of going to the game because of the outrageous scalp rates, and we also had no idea just how captivating the festivities were going to be.
The city was alive. Streets filled with excited, freshly tanned fans in the July heat, walking eagerly from spot to spot, clad in the crispest and most expensive All-Star jerseys you have ever seen. Barbeque pits were blazing, tailgate parties were raging, and music was blasting as everyone came together to soak in the sheer brilliance of an All-Star weekend.
I’ll spare the boring details from our experience downtown and jump straight to the climax. As we wrapped around the backside of the stadium just minutes before the President threw out the first pitch, we stopped, engulfed by a crowd of thousands, as the starting lineups were introduced.
With just a glimpse of the crowd over the short left field barrier, we anxiously awaited the announcer’s introduction of our hero, Prince Albert. My friend looked at me, his arms crossed with a frustrated look on his face.
“This crowd is too loud,” he said. “We’re not going to hear when Albert gets called.”
I responded, “No, man. You’ll know when that happens.”
Seconds later, the city felt like it erupted. People were cheering like they had lost their minds. Hats flew in the air, and even the thousand folks outside the stadium were in complete pandemonium was Albert was introduced. This was our city, our stadium, our festivities, and our guy was the star of the show.
As I look forward to the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, I’m met with mixed emotions about how things will look in February. On the one hand, you have a small market team with a glistening new stadium and a city of fans that have been oh so close to a championship. What’s more, they have a star who has not only cast a dominant shadow over an entire history of big men in the league, but who has also bolstered the city of Orlando and represented the Magic in a way that no player ever has.
Here’s where it gets weird.
No one is sure if this guy, who is the heart of Orlando, is going to be a resident of this city for much longer. Here is something even stranger to think about. This massive celebration of all that is amazing in sports has a guest of honor, and he might even be wearing the wrong colors when he attends his own show.
I mean this is really awkward, right?
Even if Dwight doesn’t get traded before the All-Star Game, you have to think that all the media surrounding him and the game will be about the probability that he is gone. It’s an elephant in the room, to say the least.
It’s strange to contemplate. Let’s pretend that Dwight is still with Orlando come All-Star game time. The fans are still skeptical that he’ll stick around, and even the most optimistic fans are worried that he’ll decide to head to Los Angeles. So how do you treat him at the game? Is it a big going away party? Do you give him the utmost respect and treat him like a legend as if you’ll never see him play a game at Amway Center again? Or even more awkwardly, do you try to use the All-Star Game as a vessel to beg Dwight to stay?
That’s what keeps eating at me and making me very uncomfortable. History shows (at least recent history with LeBron) that love of a city is not enough for a guy who wants to win a championship. So no amount of begging or pleading or homage or even worship is enough to make a man stick around. I’m thinking maybe Magic fans realize this, and have moved on to the “let’s get this over with” position. Maybe not, though, and that creates potential for something very sad on All-Star weekend.
I’m really not here to talk about the X’s and O’s of Dwight’s potential movement this season. We know he has three options: Re-sign with Orlando, role the dice with free agency, or get traded (probably at the deadline when the Magic can get the most out of him). I’m just here to say that whether it’s still a question in February, or he’s wearing a Lakers jersey in the game, the All-Star weekend in Orlando is going to be one big awkward mess.
Dwight Howard has been an unbelievable asset to the city of Orlando. It makes me uncomfortable, and yes, a little bit sad to visualize an All-Star weekend that could be spoiled by the uncertain, or worse yet, the inevitable. I wish that Orlando could enjoy this weekend with the proud and exciting truth that Dwight will be with Orlando to the bitter end, but it just does not seem likely. I’m glad I got to experience the All-Star game in St. Louis with Albert in the forefront of the excitement. If Orlando fans can experience the same, I’ll be the first on my feet for the standing ovation.