Howard’s Clown Act Won’t Fly With Kobe
By Peter Kerasotis // September 1, 2012
PETER K: MY TAKE
The bluntness of Stan Van Gundy’s words weren’t surprising, not even by his standards. The former Orlando Magic head coach was on my buddy Mike Bianchi’s Central Florida radio show this past Monday, speaking his mind as only he can.
With no animus, no agenda, no angst, Van Gundy summed up what went wrong with Dwight Howard and the Magic.
And, oh, did it ever go wrong.
Howard asked to be traded, and then asked that the franchise fire Van Gundy. On both fronts, he got his wish.
Meanwhile, his reputation took a huge, huge hit – in the league, in the media and in the court of public opinion.
As Bleacher Report columnist Stephen Babb recently wrote, “(Howard) should accept that the way he handled things was wrong. He should admit that it wasn’t all former Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith’s fault. … He should wipe his car-salesman’s smile off his face and concede to the planet that he’s selfish, impulsive and fake.”
Of course, Howard would never admit that.
After all, he got away with way too much in Orlando, where the Magic placated and pampered him, feeding his inner diva to the point that it became his whole persona.
Which is what Van Gundy spoke to on the radio, about how Magic management went about it all wrong with Howard.
“To make Dwight happy, we compromised a lot of the culture and values that we had had before, and I think that’s always a mistake,” Van Gundy said. “I think that once you compromise those things, everything is going to go south. And that’s exactly what happened to our organization. We compromised those things. It was no longer a team-first thing. It was no longer about trying to win games and doing what was best for the organization. And it was inevitable that things weren’t going to go well.”
Those of us who’ve been around the Magic all these years sure saw it coming.
Those of us who’ve been around the Magic all these years sure saw it coming. Selfish? What comes first for Dwight is Dwight. The man is in love with himself. He has an Adonis complex, unable to pass a mirror without gazing at his reflection. There might be no “i” in team, but Howard sure saw the letters “m” and “e” and wasted no time putting them together.
Selfish? What comes first for Dwight is Dwight. The man is in love with himself. He has an Adonis complex, unable to pass a mirror without gazing at his reflection. There might be no “i” in team, but Howard sure saw the letters “m” and “e” and wasted no time putting them together.
His thirst for attention was never quenched. What you as fans consistently saw was how he always had to be the last player on the court at the start of games, making everyone wait while he went through some ridiculous, demonstrative courtside routine. What you didn’t see is how he also would do that to his teammates again and again, consistently making them wait on him. He was, in fact, notorious for being the last one to show up for a team flight.
And not that many fans care, though it does give insight into the man, Dwight was always, always the last one out of the shower and to his locker, where he would go through a painfully slow ritual of dressing and primping himself while deadlines blew up.
And the Magic organization allowed it. All of it.
That’s why it was interesting in the waning months of his tenure in Orlando to see how the organization, convinced now that he was leaving, yearned to see him exposed. There were some press conferences where normally the Magic PR machine would step in and save Howard from himself. Instead, as his final days wound down, they’d let him hang. They also fed the rumors that the player who came into the NBA preaching religion and slapping Bible verses onto backboards has multiple children with multiple women, none of whom he is joined with in holy matrimony.
It was a sad stab at damage control on the part of the Magic, especially when you consider that they had contributed so much to causing the damage.
You’d think that after Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady, the Magic might’ve learned that kowtowing to a player, no matter what his skill set is, doesn’t work. But no, not the Magic. Instead, they keep trying the same methods, hoping for different results.
The result with Dwight Howard is that now he’s gone to the same franchise that snatched Shaquille O’Neal from them a generation earlier – the Los Angeles Lakers, an organization for whom Orlando has become a farm system.
No, the Magic haven’t learned.
Meanwhile, Dwight Howard is in for some lessons with the Lakers. Or, specifically, with the Lakers’ reigning superstar – Kobe Bryant.
I remember walking into the Lakers’ pregame locker room once, early in Kobe’s career, and what I saw was a young Michael Jordan. We all knew that Kobe had the skills. But, hey, a lot of athletes are gifted below the neck. But what resided in that priceless piece of real estate between his ears? And how big was that critical organ that does double duty pumping blood?
I saw the answer in that locker room.
While other players were goofing off or doing nothing particularly important (most had their head phones on, listening to music) Kobe was sitting in the middle of the locker room with his face no more than 18 inches from a TV screen, watching game film with laser intensity. Hours before tipoff, he was already locked in. The building could’ve caught fire, and he likely wouldn’t have noticed.
Two words come to mind when I think of Kobe Bryant.
“No” and “nonsense.”
Two words come to mind when I think of Dwight Howard.
“Goof” and “ball.”
And, believe me, goofball is precisely Howard’s reputation in the league. As great as he is as a defensive player, he doesn’t have a whole lot of respect from his peers.
After the trade to Los Angeles, Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski. wrote about how Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett used to chide Howard. “During games,” Wojnarowski wrote, “players used to hear Kevin Garnett screaming at Howard: ‘Paint your face, clown!’ up and down the floor.”
Howard’s goofy immaturity might’ve been okay with the Magic, but it won’t be okay with Kobe Bryant. No, the clown act won’t fly with Kobe, nor with Lakers fans for that matter.
Know this, Howard was almost traded to the Lakers as far back as last offseason, and again at the trade deadline last March, when he backed away, apparently spooked by Kobe after a phone conversation between the two players. In no uncertain terms, Bryant told Howard that if he came to Los Angeles, it wasn’t to be the savior or the team’s biggest star. It was for his defense and rebounding. Period. He’d be second fiddle, at best. And he’d have to buy into the culture of winning. Of team.
Howard was almost traded to the Lakers as far back as last offseason, and again at the trade deadline last March, when he backed away, apparently spooked by Kobe after a phone conversation between the two players. In no uncertain terms, Bryant told Howard that if he came to Los Angeles, it wasn’t to be the savior or the team’s biggest star. It was for his defense and rebounding. Period. He’d be second fiddle, at best. And he’d have to buy into the culture of winning. Of team.
If Kobe won the war of wills with Shaq, which he did, then comparatively speaking Howard would be light work for him.
More than anything, it is why Howard pushed so hard for a trade to the Brooklyn Nets instead of Los Angeles.
Well, now he’s in L.A., and the stakes are high.
Now he’s in L.A., and he’s going to learn a thing or two about accountability.
And perhaps even humility.
If you look at the Lakers’ starting lineup, you see Howard having to fit in, instead of vice versa. Even at his age, Steve Nash is arguably the best shooting guard in the league. Pau Gasol’s offensive game makes Howard’s look amateurish. Metta World Peace not only defends with the best of them, he can also drain a 3-point shot. And Kobe? Well, it’s his team and it’s especially his ball in clutch situations.
Howard’s role is simple.
Defend and rebound.
There’s not a whole lot of glamour there.
But there will be a spotlight.
Spotlight? More like a heat lamp of scrutiny.
Or, as Shaquille O’Neal said after Howard’s trade to the Lakers was finalized: “If he thinks the Orlando Sentinel was on his case when he didn’t perform, guys like (Los Angeles Times columnist) Bill Plaschke … they don’t play.”
Neither does Kobe Bryant.
As Bryant told Wojnarowski at the Olympics, everything changes now for Howard simply because of “the pressure that he’s under now. That pressure is on us all. We have to win championships. The focus will be higher, the intensity will be higher.”
If Dwight Howard even remotely believes that the Lakers will be anything like the Magic, he’s in for a shock.
He will not change the Lakers.
The question is: Will he allow the Lakers to change him?