Howard Looking to Move Past Mid-Career Crisis, Return to Stardom
“I never recovered from Dwightmare period.”
It seems like it was just yesterday when Dwight Howard was a destructive force under the basket. A freak of nature, a super athlete in peak physical condition, a man amongst boys. He was the modern day version of Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal. There was no question who the best big man in the game was, the answer was really quite simple – it was Dwight Howard.
Drafted straight out of the Southwest Christian Academy High School, Dwight Howard didn’t need a year of college basketball to wait until his body became slightly more, as scouts like to coin it, “NBA ready”. He became dominant and overpowering right from the get-go, averaging a double-double in his first season in the league as part of the Orlando Magic. Arriving to a franchise desperate to build a winning culture, the future of the Magic hinged on the shoulders of the 6’11”, 265-lbs big man.
It’s not to say that the Magic did not pull every straw to find a franchise cornerstone. There was Grant Hill. There was Tracy McGrady. And there was Steve Francis. But in all three cases, the Magic failed to receive any sort of prolonged success.
Their ticket to the next level was Howard.
Howard didn’t fail to fit the bill becoming everything he was advertised to one day be. With the Magic, he became a six-time All-Star, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. On the All-Star stage, he dazzled at the Slam Dunk Competition – he was a box office attraction. Man-on-man defense was hardly effective, even while double-teamed, Howard’s shear strength and size overpowered his competition.
He was on the path way to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
And in 2009, behind Howard’s 20-point, 15-rebound per game playoff-run, the Magic reached the pinnacle of the NBA world – the NBA Finals.
A stage not Grant Hill, nor McGrady, nor Stevie Franchise were able to reach as the leaders of the team.
This was Howard’s NBA and he dominated it.
“Right after the lockout ended, in December, I went to GM Otis Smith,” Howard said to ESPN in an exclusive sit-down interview. “But before that, I called Jameer Nelson and told him I was going to ask for a trade. I told him, ‘This has nothing to do with you, Stan [Van Gundy] or anyone else. I just want a different atmosphere. I’m too comfortable here. I need to grow.’ I loved Orlando. I loved the city, but at that time, I didn’t feel winning was a priority. I really wanted to win. People will come back and say, ‘Well, you were all over the place making movies.’ Like I don’t love the game or something. I love basketball. It is my passion. But, I’ve always thought if you just sit back and stay in one lane your whole life, I’ll get old and be done with basketball, and I won’t be able to do anything else because I wouldn’t have planted any of those seeds in other places.”
Then the wheels began to turn and a new chapter in Howard’s career was set to begin.
Howard grew impatient in Orlando, finding a new, temporary home with the Los Angeles Lakers after Orlando spun a blockbuster deal to move the franchise center, but differences between him and the front office as well as the team’s superstar Kobe Bryant, along with a torn labrum injury would cut his Lakers tenure prematurely.
The nightmare termed ‘Dwightmare’ was only in its infancy, for the next few years of Howard’s career, once the league’s most dominant players and biggest stars, would see his superstar career spiral into a disaster.
“I lost confidence in who I am as a player,” he recalled in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “I’d hear people say, ‘You should play more like Shaq,’ so I tried to bully guys. But that didn’t work because I’m not as big as Shaq. Then I’d hear people say, ‘You smile too much, you should be more like Kobe,’ so I tried to put on a mean face and play mad. But I wound up getting all these stupid techs and flagrant fouls.”
From Los Angeles, despite all of the Lakers’ attempts at bringing back Howard, Dwight looked to start anew and signed a big, long-term with the Houston Rockets, hoping that teaming up with star guard James Harden would allow him to return to prominence.
Again, Howard was unable to settle in and butted heads with Harden. An eroding relationship that ultimately reached a feverish pitch, Howard struggled through his Rockets tenure and ultimately opted to return home to Atlanta in free agency.
“The joy was sucked out of it,” Howard said, citing that he even considered retirement.
The game has taken him from a teenager and transformed him into a superstar. Caught under the bright lights of the NBA, Howard’s career came crashing down as quickly as it skyrocketed to new heights.
After just one season with his home-town team, Howard was traded to the Charlotte Hornets and while the ‘Dwightmare’ years have been recently overshadowed by Howard’s inefficiency and lack of a presence on the floor, Howard is ready to move on with his basketball career.
The game that was once his passion, turned into something he wanted to desperately get away from. Now, Howard claims he is ready to put his demons in the past and begin a new chapter of his career.
Entering his 14th season, Howard may not longer possess the same ability he once did in his Orlando days. Still, Howard remains a double-double threat on a nightly basis, and while ‘Superman’ may be gone for good, Howard has a chance to ride out into the sunset and finish his career the same way it started – with him on top of the world, playing out his passion.