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Dwight Howard apologizes to Orlando for how exit went down

Mar 11, 2013, 1:19 PM EDT

Dwight Howard AP

This isn’t going to change anything.

It isn’t going to change that Dwight Howard has a home in Bel Air (an expensive Los Angeles enclave) and is wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey this season. It isn’t going to change the reaction Howard is going to get when he returns to Orlando on Tuesday.

But he is sorry.

Speaking from his Los Angeles home, Howard told Sam Amick of the USA Today he was sorry for how everything went down in his exit from Orlando last year.

“In Orlando, I handled a lot of stuff the wrong way,” he said, sitting at his kitchen table. “If any of those people in Orlando are upset with how I did it, I apologize for the way I handled it and the way it was handled in the media.

“I really just got caught up in wanting to please everybody else. I really love that city. That was the hardest thing to do was to leave that city because I basically grew up there. That was my whole life. Orlando was it. I did not want to leave all that behind — the city, just everything about it. The fans. But I wanted a change for my life. I just felt like there was something else out there for me.”

Howard’s indecisiveness and how all that went down hurt his public standing — he went from a guy largely liked by fans around the league to a guy whose efforts were being compared to LeBron’s decision. It hit him in the pocketbook as McDonald’s and Gatorade saw Howard’s popularity numbers and dropped him as a sponsor.

It hasn’t been any better lately, with Howard telling a Los Angeles reporter that the Magic team was made up of players nobody wanted. Whatever his intentions, it comes off poorly for him.

“There are a lot of things about me that have changed,” said Howard, a 27-year-old Atlanta native who was drafted first overall out of high school in 2004. “I’m becoming a better man because of the stuff that has happened to me this last year and a half. Everybody goes through stuff like this. Even though I’m going through it where everybody in the world can see it, I’m happy that it’s happening.

“If it didn’t happen, I’d be stuck in my ways. I would never change, and then it would be a lot worse. For all this stuff to happen, for me to sit back and see and evaluate myself and what I could’ve done better and realize that I needed to make a change, I’m getting better. I’m growing up. I’m maturing.”

In American sports culture, one thing cures these kind of issues — winning. Whether it is Kobe Bryant and rape charges or LeBron James and the decision (or countless other examples) you can win your way back for much of the population by winning. That is where Howard is — help lead the Lakers to titles and the adulation (and sponsors) will return. Struggle and the pressures will mount.

He’s going to have to mature to deal with all that and get the wins he craves. It appears that process has started. We’ll see how far it goes over the next several years.

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