If you had your ear to the ground of the NBA landscape over the last five years, you probably know about it. And if you’ve ever YouTubed the phrase “Stan Van Gundy”, you’ve probably seen it.
After four years and over 528,000 views, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard finally attempted to set the record straight on Thursday regarding the moment in which he sidled up alongside then-Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy just moments after Van Gundy admitted his star center wanted him fired.
“I know he has,” Van Gundy said at the time, regarding whether Howard had asked for Van Gundy to be fired. “That’s just the way it is. Again, I’ve been dealing with that all year. It’s not anything real bothersome. You go out and do your job…. I was told it was true by management, right from the top.”
Van Gundy carried on. “You know you’re gonna get asked [about potentially being fired] and you think about how you’re gonna respond and the whole thing, and… The only thing I’m ever uncomfortable with is bullshit. Some people have a hard time with that, I guess.”
After Howard interrupted the interview to put his arm around his coach while attempting to dispel rumors, Van Gundy excused himself from the interview and left his center to take over the interview solo, unknowingly contradicting everything Van Gundy had just confirmed moments before in a cringe-worthy performance.
On Thursday, in an exclusive interview with ESPN.com’s Jackie McMullan, Howard reflected upon the staggeringly uncomfortable nature of the exchange.
ESPN: Your tenure in Orlando ended badly. The video (from April 5, 2012) of Stan Van Gundy at a shootaround telling reporters you wanted him fired, and then you showing up and putting your arm around him, and then Stan walking off might be the most awkward NBA moment ever. What was going on there?
Howard: “So much of what happened in Orlando was brought out the wrong way. When I walked over to Stan that day, people say that I knew what Stan was saying. I had no clue. I remember it like it happened yesterday. I felt my life changed that day.”
ESPN: How so?
Howard: “People decided that day I was some kind of bad guy. I don’t think people realized what happened.”
ESPN: Did you ask management to fire Stan Van Gundy?
Howard: “The back story is that months before that, before the  lockout, I had a conversation with Magic owner Rich DeVos. They flew me out on a private plane to Michigan. I was talking to him about how we could grow the team. When I first got to Orlando, he called us the Orlando “Tragic” and I hated it. I wanted to talk to him about how we could grow our team. I was saying, ‘Let’s have Magic cereal, Magic vitamins with our players’ faces on it so they can get to know our team.’ In the course of our conversation, we started talking about what’s going on with our team.”
ESPN: What did you say about Stan in that meeting?
Howard: “I told Rich the truth. I told him, ‘I love Stan. I think he’s done a great job, but I think he’s lost his voice in the locker room.’ It wasn’t, ‘Hey, I want Stan fired or else.’ I was never upset with Stan at any point. It wasn’t anything personal against Stan. He knows that. It’s just over the past couple of years I could see a lot of the guys had lost their faith in him.”
ESPN: How long before the public comments from Stan saying you wanted him gone was your meeting with DeVos?
Howard: “Oh, it was months before. In late June, just before the lockout.”
ESPN: Looking back, what could you have done differently to handle that situation?
Howard: “I shouldn’t have gone over to Stan (at the shootaround). I just wanted to show people that I respected my coach, that we had been through battles together. Stan and I got the best out of each other. If I wasn’t doing something right, he’d come to me and say, ‘Dwight, I know you can block shots better than this. I know you can rebound better.’ He helped me become a better player.”
Of course, both Howard and Van Gundy have since moved on. Howard is heading into an offseason in which his value on the market stands as a hot topic of debate, depending upon whether he opts out of his deal in Houston.
Meanwhile, Van Gundy made considerable strides with his new team, the Detroit Pistons. In his second season as both head coach and president of player operations, Van Gundy led the Pistons to their best record since 2008 while pushing them to their first playoff berth this decade.
Read Dwight Howard’s full interview with Jackie McMullan HERE.