Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

The “official word” had yet to be uttered from the horse’s mouth at 2 pm this afternoon, but when evening came, so did the Tweet from Dwight Howard himself.

Last summer, Mitch Kupchak took Howard into his office and pointed across to the retired Laker jerseys hanging on the wall of the team’s practice facility. “One day, I want your jersey to be up there,” the Laker GM said, while Howard covered his mouth in awe. As premature as it may have been at the time, we saw Howard in our imagination, adding himself to the legacy of bigs who have led the franchise to the golden trophy at the end of the season.

We cheered him on as he fought through his recovery from back surgery. We told those who questioned his commitment, that his smile and playful demeanor was a good balance next to Kobe Bryant’s intensity. In the end, however, the lights were still too bright, the challenges too difficult and the responsibility of becoming one of the faces of the most recognizable team in the world was too great a burden to bear.

We saw this coming though, didn’t we? We knew he had a hard time accepting Mike D’Antoni’s system. We knew he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Bryant. We knew he had a penchant for ducking responsibility so he wouldn’t look like the bad guy. We just hoped the Lakers would bring something different, something more out of him, and we hoped he’d give it more than just one injury-riddled season’s try.

Though the omens were there long before the end of this past season, the glimmer of hope faded still further from the moment Howard was ejected from Game 4, the Lakers swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. With almost half of his teammates sitting on the sideline in suits, the post-season was Howard’s chance to shine, to lead. Wasn’t that what he wanted? To have the floor to himself? To be the center of the offense and the defense without the shadow of Kobe Bryant looking over his shoulder?

The Spurs were, obviously, a formidable team who made it all the way to the NBA finals, and the Lakers’ chances were no greater than slim in winning that series; but you go down fighting, not getting thrown out of an elimination game two minutes into the third quarter when your team had some sort of chance to avoid getting swept. It was clear as day, though, that ejection: Howard’s white flag, waving in all its shameful glory.

Following another embarrassing exit from contention, a frustrating, annoying, anxious-filled post-season awaited the Los Angeles Lakers; their future lying in the hands of one player. Despite the efforts to show him he was wanted in L.A. (huge city walls and newspapers covered with his countenance and #StayD12 printed below), the desired outcome fell through anyway. Dwight Howard is moving on, and so should we.

Despite what many may accuse, we fans aren’t all speaking from a place of bitterness. The Lakers would indeed have been a better team with Howard in the rotation. There is no denying that. But we wanted Dwight Howard in a Laker uniform because HE WANTS to be in a Laker uniform. To the Laker faithful (fans, players and coaches alike), that purple and gold jersey is more than just a jersey, and any player who can’t or won’t understand that simply shouldn’t stay.