In 1999, the NFL had a decision to make. Would they award the NFL's 32nd franchise to Los Angeles or Houston? The contingent from Houston had the better bid worth $1.1 billion, an organized plan of attack and a city ready to build a brand new stadium. LA had the second largest television market in America, and that's pretty much it. The NFL extended deadlines it had set for Los Angeles while Bob McNair waited patiently. When, finally, league officials threw up their hands in frustration, it was clear Houston was begrudgingly going to get a team.
LA still has none.
So, when Dwight Howard ultimately made his decision to join the Rockets on Friday, it came as no surprise that pretty much everyone at ESPN and a whole host of others in the media simply could not believe it. They were in such disbelief, they conjured a way to keep hope alive with rumors that Howard was waffling. He wasn't, but it kept Twitter feeds burning and eyes on the four-letter network an hour or so longer, which is exactly what they want. It took Stephen A. Smith -- yes, that Stephen A. Smith -- to debunk the rumors and put ESPN in its place.
When the dust finally settled, seemingly no one could believe Howard would leave a "storied franchise" -- Howard used the words himself repeated ad nauseum by every outlet on the planet sounding like like talking points issued by the Buss family -- for the Rockets. He was leaving a team with a history of great big men for Houston, a franchise known for...oh, right. It might have been satisfying to see all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the national and LA-based media, so vested in the success of the Lakers, if not for the fact that a sizable number of media members in Houston turned into Sally Field at the 1984 Academy Awards. He likes us, he likes US!
There is an unfortunate predictability to such things it would seem. When players (former or otherwise) and coaches like Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson call Houston a "little town" or refer to the Rockets as the "Astros," it's like a guy on his phone in his expensive car flipping you off when you honk at him for cutting you off. It's annoying, but pretty much expected. When the media does it, however, it's something else.
Chris Broussard came on ESPN Friday night and went Keith Jackson telling everyone "Whoa, Nelly!" that Howard was flying to LA and was still on the fence. Sure, he was just going to tell Mitch Kupchak to his face he was leaving for Houston, but same diff.
Then J.A. Adande penned this thing for ESPN backing up the assertions and using them to heap additional criticism on Howard. That unleashed a fury of "he's scared of the 'bright lights' of LA" including Shaq's shot and Arash Markazi (for ESPN LA, natch) saying Howard shrunk from the challenge of life in the big city. Of course, there is no ESPN Houston for rebuttal, but that's probably because we're a "little town." That was followed by the Los Angeles Times claiming if the Lakers had truly wanted to keep Howard, they would have. This was just a smart move by a team on the rise...if you count a torn achilles, a nearly-40-year-old Steve Nash and Pau Gasol in that mix of excellence.
This all ignores the fact that, by all accounts, the Lakers treated the recruitment of Howard as an afterthought, not because they didn't want him but because they thought, "Hey, Dwight, it's LA!" was enough to sell him. It doesn't help that your owner is Jim Buss, not Jerry Buss, and the GM is Kupchak, not Jerry West, oh, and the coach hasn't been allowed to assemble a staff just yet.
Then there's Kobe Bryant. By all accounts, Bryant is a serious fellow who does not like shenanigans or tomfoolery in his locker room. Much the same way O'Neal bolted for Miami when he and Bryant were at odds over focus and all that, Howard has opted for the relative quiet of Houston and the young energy of a Rockets team that works hard, but manages to enjoy themselves in the process.
Of course, this is just Dwight Howard being immature, unable to handle the spotlight and weak minded. Right.
In truth, Houston acts like the weird little kid who tries to pal around with the cool kids a bit too often. When the cool kids finally let him in on a joke, he goes so far that he embarrasses everyone. Daryl Morey's "un-presidential" yelp when he heard the news and the various "OMG" headlines mixed with unbridled giddiness from local media makes it hard to dispute the notion that we find shock in success of this scale.
But, then again, we did get the Texans and now we have Dwight Howard. LA has no NFL team and an aging NBA franchise with questionable leadership. It's probably time we stopped getting shocked when good things happen, and maybe time LA starts actually trying to get its shit together instead of throwing a picture of the Hollywood sign onto a Power Point presentation, saying "need I say more?" and dropping the mic. Clearly, it doesn't hold the sway it once did.