It remains one the strangest coach-player interactions played out in the public eye, when a towering Dwight Howard approached Stan Van Gundy and rested his right arm over his then-coach’s shoulder, saying everything was gonna be just fine.
The problem was, Van Gundy had just confirmed a report to a pack of reporters that said Howard had sought his firing from the Orlando Magic.
On Thursday, six years latter, Howard recalled the moment in a guest appearance on ESPN’s The Jump, repeatedly calling it “the worst day of my life.”
“The first question is like ‘Dwight, they said you wanted to get Stan fired.’ I was like ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Howard recalled. “That was literally the worst day of my life. We had a game that night. And that was the worst game I ever played. Like, I could not hit the basket for nothing. And you would have thought — I don’t know what was going on that night, but it was the worst ever.
“So man, shout out to Stan, man. Shout out to Stan, man.”
It was April 5, 2012, and the Magic were battling through a losing streak, and dropped another game to fall into sixth place in the East. The box score shows Howard played 40 minutes in a 96-80 loss to the New York Knicks, limited to eight points on 4-for-8 shooting with eight rebounds and five fouls.
Howard told The Jump he had been standing aside as Van Gundy talked to reporters, when some of the media advised him to show that he was OK with Van Gundy.
“They said, ‘Hey you should go put your arm around Stan and let everybody know you all are OK,’ ” Howard said. “So I was like ‘OK, I don’t have a problem with Stan.’
“So I go out there, put my arm around Stan, he says a little line, I say something, and he just jets out of there.”
Replays of the Van Gundy’s pregame news conference show several microphones set up in front of the coach — and on the other side, a significant media scrum.
“When it comes out that one of the highest-profile guys in the league has asked his coach to be fired, it’s going to be a story,” Van Gundy tells reporters, shortly before Howard walks up on the media gathering.
“Yeah Stan, we’re not worried about that, right?” Howard says.
“That’s what I just said,” Van Gundy replies after taking a long draw from a soda can, before quickly taking another. “We got to be worried about winning games.”
“What’s our main concern right now?” the towering Howard says as he wraps his right arm around Van Gundy, before looking across the room for then-teammate Jameer Nelson. “Jameer?”
“We have to stop Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks tonight” Van Gundy says before Howard quickly repeats, “and the New York Knicks.”
The Magic fired Van Gundy a month later, after losing a five-game, first-round playoff series to the Indiana Pacers.
“That day, they said me and Stan had has some beef or something like that, where I wanted him fired,” Howard recalled Thursday to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Kevin Arnovitz and Jorge Sedano. “And I was like ‘What? I never said that.’ “
Howard then related a locker room story, doing a comedic impression in which Van Gundy walks around the room pointing and calling each player “scorer” until he gets to center Marcin Gortat.
“Thinks he’s a scorer!” Howard relays in a squeaky, high-pitched voice, saying Gortat became angry. “You’re not a scorer, Marcin!”
Howard also recalled once being called into Van Gundy’s office, where the coach requests Howard boost his blocks per game by three.
“And I’m like, OK, Stan. But Stan is animated, man. Shout out to Stan Van Gundy,” Howard says as he pounds his fist with a smile.
Van Gundy was let go by the Detroit Pistons last month after they missed the playoffs in three of his four years on the job. Van Gundy had been serving in a dual role as president of basketball operations and head coach.
“We never really had a bad relationship,” Howard said. “You know, he’s just really intense when it comes to basketball.
“And when he loses, if you’ve ever seen Stan after a loss, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this guy is crazy,’ ” Howard recalled before again going into his impression of Van Gundy. ” ‘Ahh! I don’t want to talk to nobody!’ He’s going crazy. But other than that, Stan is awesome. The stuff that he’s done politically has been great.”
After his ouster from the Magic, whom he had coached for five seasons, Van Gundy sat out two seasons before joining the Pistons. Van Gundy, who holds a 523-384 career coaching record, has also coached the Miami Heat.
“I have no issues with Stan,” Howard said. “You know, we went through that thing in Orlando, I think a lot of people blew it out of proportion. But Stan is a great guy. We had some great times together.”