ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was a few hours before the Magic were to play the Miami Heat on Wednesday night when Dwight Howard was asked about the death of his No. 1 fan.
Her name is Kay Kellogg, and you may remember her from this column. She had terminal bone cancer, but her one dying wish was to meet Dwight, her sports hero, before she passed away.
She fell in the love with him from the very beginning when he was a winning, grinning joy-filled teenager. She -- and every other Magic fan for that matter -- embraced him as one of their own and watched him grow up on this team and in this town.
Dwight, at the request of the Magic, went to visit Kay at her home a couple of months ago and was supposed to stay about 30 minutes. He ended up staying two hours and developed a fast friendship with her. He invited her to Magic's opening game in the new arena, he wore sneakers with her name stitched into them and he helped make her painful final days just a little bit better.
She called Dwight, "My 7-foot-tall bottle of medicine."
He called her his "Mama Kay."
A few days ago, Mama Kay finally succumbed to the cancer that had overwhelmed her body. When I asked Dwight about her passing, he was visibly shaken.
"I try not to think about it because it hurts that she's not here," he said.
The reason I bring this up is because to show what I believe is a major difference between the Magic and the Miami Heat -- and it has nothing to do with who is the better team on the court. Despite Orlando's 104-95 victory Wednesday night, we won't know that until the playoffs start in five months.
No, this column is about who is a more beloved team off the court.
I started thinking about this earlier in the week as I listened to Magic players and coaches discuss their Thanksgiving weekend plans. You should have heard guys like Howard and J.J. Redick talking about dishing out turkey dinners at community centers around town. Or Coach Stan Van Gundy peeling away his grumpy exterior and explaining why he puts on a big breakfast every Thanksgiving for the local Coalition for the Homeless.
"The one thing I think about during the holidays are the people who aren't as fortunate as some of us are," Van Gundy said. "You want to do everything you can to make their holiday just a little bit brighter."
Added Redick: "I feel like I have become part of this community and I take pride in that. I feel like we all have a responsibility to give back."
This isn't to say the Heat and other NBA teams aren't doing similar good works in their community, but you wonder if Miami, as a city, really feels a connection and a kinship with the Heat as Orlando does with the Magic. It sure doesn't seem like it.
LeBron, D-Wade and the fellas feel more like a travelling All-Star team than they do South Florida's team. Are they the Miami Heat or the Harlem Globetrotters?
Even President Barack Obama told ABC's Barbara Walters the other day that he keeps track of the Heat from the White House. Too bad the fans in Miami don't seem quite so interested.
Have you seen all the empty seats at Heat games? Thousands of well-heeled fans have actually bought the tickets, but they either aren't showing up for games or are showing up distressingly late. The situation has become so dire that management has embarrassingly launched a "Fan Up" marketing campaign in which they instruct fans that it is their "responsibility" to be more spirited and show up on time.
Anybody ever think that maybe Heat fans aren't behind their team because it really doesn't feel like their team? This Heat team feels like the Florida Marlins of several years ago a bunch of hired guns who were brought in to win a championship and then suddenly disbanded and disappeared right after the World Series.
Philosophical question: If a team wins a championship and nobody in the community really takes any pride in it, is it really a championship?
Let's face it, the Heat aren't exactly the type of team fans can embrace. It's pretty difficult to feel good about a franchise whose biggest star, LeBron, bailed on his hometown team so he could "take my talents to South Beach." And then, of course, there's the other free agent acquisition, Chris Bosh, who suggested the other day that coach Eric Spoelstra may be pushing the illustrious, exalted King James and his Royal Court too hard.
"He wants to work," Bosh said of Spoelstra. "We want to chill."
See what I mean?
This is the sort of comment that makes fans cringe and adds to the perception of the Heat being a team of privileged prima donnas.
Then you hear a comment like this about Dwight and the Magic.
"Dwight Howard is just a precious, wonderful kid," Mama Kay said before she passed away. "When I watch him play, he just makes me feel good. ... The Magic have been such a blessing to me."
LeBron and his travelling All-Stars may be known by all, but are they really loved by anyone?