By John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com – Former Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard created a bit of a stir on Tuesday when he expressed his disappointment with the Magic for giving the No. 12 away to another player just months after he had defected to the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Wednesday, Tobias Harris – the player who now wears No. 12 for the Magic – stressed that he wears the number for all the right reasons and that he never meant any disrespect to Howard’s legacy in Orlando.
Upon getting traded to Orlando last February, Harris requested No. 12 as a way to honor former teammate Morgan Childs, who died of leukemia when Harris was a high school sophomore in New York. It was the number that Childs once wore and Harris made a promise to his father, Torrel, the day he left the funeral that he would wear the number if he ever made it to the NBA.
Harris wore No. 12 throughout high school and in college at the University of Tennessee. He couldn’t do so with the Milwaukee Bucks because No. 12 was assigned to Luc Mbaha a Moute at the time. The trade to Orlando gave Harris another shot at snagging the sentimental number – and never did he know that it would create such a controversy because of the history tied to Howard.
“I wear the number for my best friend who passed away. That’s my story and there’s really nothing else to it,’’ Harris said. “I’m not about the number or the name on the back; I’m about the name on the front and that’s the Orlando Magic.
“I wore 12 in high school and college, and to me it was something to keep me at peace and let me know that my best friend is still with me to this day,’’ Harris continued. “It’s just the number that I wear and I don’t look too much into (the controversy). I focus on us as a basketball team and my teammates and nothing else.’’
Howard, the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by Orlando, wore No. 12 for eight seasons while playing for the Magic. He led Orlando to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. Additionally, he is the franchise’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots, but he had an ugly divorce from the team in August of 2012 when he demanded a trade elsewhere.
“I’m still a little upset about the No. 12. I just think despite whatever happened, there were a lot of things that I did and we did as a team,’’ Howard said on Tuesday. “That number is special down there. I was a little upset about that.’’
Harris, who is still just 21 years old, averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 points over the final 27 games of last season after joining the Magic. That’s something that Howard didn’t accomplish while playing for the Lakers, and numbers that only four others (Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee and Al Jefferson) reached last season. Harris is averaging 12 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in limited minutes this preseason.
Harris did not play Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets because of a minor ankle sprain. He said the injury was minor and he hopes to be back on the floor Friday night when the Magic host the Memphis Grizzlies.
“It’s just a little soreness and a precautionary thing (to sit out of Wednesday’s game),’’ he said. “I just need to get it back healthy and it’s nothing too crazy. I would hope it’s just a one-game thing.’’
Harris’ work ethic has become somewhat legendary around his friends and Magic teammates. He stayed in Orlando most of the summer to improve his strength and work on his skills. Following a lengthy practice with the Magic on Tuesday, Harris got in some extra work at a local gym in Houston with his personal trainer. Nicknamed “All Business,’’ Harris said he is simply focused on doing whatever possible to get himself ready for this season.
“It just shows my will power to continue to work as hard as I can,’’ Harris said. “I just want to be in the best shape that I can possibly be in so that I can play the whole season and have a healthy year.’’