Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Curious Case of Dwight Howard

In a league based on the promotion of talented young, budding superstars, the fawning over "Superman" Dwight Howard has been, at best, nauseating.

In the Sports Illustrated's April 20, 2009 cover story it was noted: "But to spend a day with Howard—hell, to spend 10 minutes with him—is to realize that despite his imposing stature and freakish athleticism, he may be among the least badass big men in NBA history."

To back the point up, the author cited the following recent examples:
  • "For starters, he has this unfortunate habit of smiling all the time, even when he's dunking on someone."
  • "This is a guy who sings BeyoncĂ© at the free throw line to ward off distractions, who quotes not Scarface but Finding Nemo."
  • "He fools around during practice, during press conferences and during shootaround, where Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has had to institute a no-flatulence rule because, as forward Rashard Lewis says, "Dwight really likes to cut the cheese."
  • "During the photo shoot for this story, Walter Iooss Jr. had such a difficult time getting a serious pose out of Howard that he eventually told the young star to just do whatever came to mind. Unshackled, Howard launched into 20 minutes of antic posturing (including fake gangster looks and a Will Ferrell imitation), eventually producing so many fey poses that were SI so inclined, it could now put out a coffee-table book titled Dwight Howard: Dandy-at-Large."
Two weeks after the issue came out, the Magic Center was suspended for, well, "toughening up," and sizing up the 76ers' Sammy Dalembert for a Dusty Rhodes-esq bionic elbow.

How did the star react to the suspension that, had the Sixers had any heart and a half-decent head coach, could have knocked the Magic from the playoffs?

First he blogged his innocence:
Well, I’m out of Game 6 tonight in Philly and there’s nothing I can do now but respect the NBA’s decision. I didn’t intend to hurt anyone, but there is a lot more pushing, grabbing and holding and elbowing that goes on down there in the paint than people realize.
And then Tweeted from the bench.

In one breath, it's a pleasure to see someone so freely and willingly interacting directly with fans.

And fans are very eager to defend him.

From this week's SI Letters:
The Joy of Dwight

Those who say Dwight Howard is too nice to win a title should take a look at the history books. Nice guys do finish first, including Tony Dungy, David Robinson and countless others who critics claimed could never win the big one.
Ray Bailey, Ottawa, Ill.

One thing is clear: Dwight Howard (The Happy Dunker, April 20) has more class than Shaquille O'Neal. Sounding quite jealous and bitter, Shaq could learn something from Howard, whose joy transcends the game. While it is unfortunate that Howard's coach and G.M. in Orlando don't seem to embrace this, I hope Howard doesn't try to conform to what they think he should be. By being himself, I have a feeling he will be just fine. Check that—Super.
Jonathan Fiskus, Jamaica Estates, N.Y.

Too nice? Maybe. But the Dalembert incident both spotlighted his immaturity on and off the court, and proved that any perceived toughness he may have is a detriment to him and his team if he is unable to control it.

For all of Shaq's off-the-court childlike goofiness, there was a controlled rage on the court while he was in his prime.

Meanwhile, Howard's team was on the brink of losing to a Philly team that had little business staying with them, while last night, as so eloquently put by one half of the NBA's resident Mario Brothers, Stan Van Gundy: "We didn’t take away anything; they [Boston] got everything they wanted. They just had us running around. … And we did not handle it well." Inexcusable.

To reach the pantheon of sports success and respectability, one must not only have heart, but play with heart. For all of the good will Howard has earned among fans with not just his social media usage, but with his All-Star Weekend spectaculars, there will be a time when, like Shaq today, all of the off-the-court nonsense becomes just that - nonsense. At least Shaq has the rings and legacy to fall back on.

At 23 and with 5 NBA seasons on his resume, like it or not, Howard is not a kid anymore. Should he spend less time bullshitting online and more time working on game outside of the paint and on free throws, Howard could be an even more dominating force than he already is. And what sports fan wouldn't want that from this lovable lug?

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1 comment:

MCBias said...

I also wonder about Howard. I actually saw the elbow as a positive sign--that beneath all those smiles lies a lot of intensity and drive. Remember, when Dwight first came into the league, he and his dad were talking about how to change the league and be a uniquely Christian athlete. He's more driven than people think--remember all that practice for the slam dunk contest?

Just for reference, here's my take on things: