PETER K: Howard Totally Eclipsed By Bryant In LA

By  //  December 18, 2012

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PETER K: MY TAKE

The old man sat in a wheelchair in the middle of the Orlando Magic locker room. I looked at him, at Rich DeVos, and wondered what words of wisdom were stored in his active 85-year-old mind. I was working on a piece for the New York Times, specifically on Dwight Howard, whose future with the franchise on that February day was still up in the air. But I had been instructed by the Magic public relations people not to approach DeVos, the team’s owner, for an interview.

Rich DeVos, founder of Amway and owner of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, possesses qualities rarely found in business leaders today: leadership, wisdom, putting others first, philanthropy, patriotism, focusing on family.

In that locker room, DeVos caught my eye.

I nodded a hello.

He greeted me back.

“You want to ask me a question?” he said.

“I’d like to.”

“Well then, come over here and ask.”

Soon we were conversing, and soon thereafter a media scrum formed a semicircle around us.

Rich DeVos was talking and we were hanging on every one of his sage words. Even E.F. Hutton would’ve been jealous.

As frail as he was, DeVos’ voice was strong, his message direct.

He talked about all the goodwill Dwight Howard had with the city of Orlando, and how the relationship was special. You can go somewhere for more money, you can go to a bigger market for more exposure, you can go somewhere else because you believe you have a better chance to win an NBA title. But what you can’t do, DeVos emphasized, is take that special bond you have with one city and bring it to a new one.

“You can’t take that with you. That doesn’t transfer,” the Magic owner told me. “I hope he realizes that. I hope he realizes what he has here, and how special that is. I hope he’s the guy that sets a trend that you don’t have to go somewhere else, that you can be loyal. Guys think they always have to run. Run after the buck. Run after the ring. He can have those things here. He has a place here. He’s in a good place, and when you’re young, sometimes you don’t realize that.”

Of course, Dwight Howard did end up running, and mostly what he ran was his mouth.

First, he asked for his coach to be fired.

Stan Van Gundy

So the Magic fired Stan Van Gundy.

Then he again asked to be traded.

The Magic obliged, sending him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Howard got what he wanted, but did he get happiness in the process?

I wonder.

Entering Monday, Los Angeles is an 11-14 team, which is not much different than the 10-13 record of the team that drafted Howard out of high school and subsequently developed him. The team that Howard abandoned.

In fact, the Lakers are off to one of their worst starts in history – certainly recent history. Already this season, they’re on their second head coach, having fired Mike Brown just five games into the season, with the Lakers sporting a 1-4 record at the time. Twenty games later, they are still three games under .500. Meanwhile, 23 games into their season, the young Magic are also three games under .500.

You’d like to say that all things being equal, things are the same for Dwight Howard. But they’re not.

His image has taken a huge, huge hit. And not just in Orlando, but around the NBA and even the world.

Dwight Howard is introduced for the first time as a member of the Lakers. (NBA video image)

He’s perceived now as a coach killer, a whiner, disloyal, phony, egotistical, narcissistic, and all sorts of other undesirable traits that makes you wonder if he’ll ever reclaim the spot he once had on Madison Avenue, where he was once developing a growing presence. Now, not even with Google maps can Howard locate Madison Avenue. He’s become something of a product-endorsement pariah.

But it goes deeper than that.

Howard was THE MAN in Orlando, just as DeVos had noted.

Howard had the gall to say that the reason why he fails so much, particularly at the free throw line, where he is abysmally converting on less than 50 percent of his foul shots, is that he cares too much. It’s also why, now in his ninth NBA season, he still hasn’t developed a mid-range jumper, something he claims he routinely makes in practice. “I hate missing,” he told Simers. “I hate missing so much, I miss. You know why? I’m always thinking I’m going to miss this and then disappoint everyone.” He calls that caring. Those of us in sports have another “c” word for that. Choking.

In Los Angeles, whatever fading star power he might still have has been totally eclipsed by Kobe Bryant. And he’s done nothing to change that; impressing neither the fans there in L.A., nor his team.

Interestingly, just several days ago, when the Lakers were 9-14, Kobe Bryant went off with one of his missives, as only Kobe can do. He talked about how the Lakers needed to turn things around, and whom he expected to lean upon to do so and where his confidence lies.

He didn’t include Dwight Howard in that message.

“It has to be guys who have done it before,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports, speaking directly about teammates who’ve hoisted championship banners.

“A lot of responsibility is going to fall on me and Pau (Gasol), but we need Metta (World Peace). Metta has a big presence on this team. I really encourage him to take that role head-on – and to be an enforcer with it. But Metta, he’s done it before. We’ve won before together.”

About the same time that Kobe was delivering that message, Howard was delivering one of his own. In the middle of a four-game losing streak last week, while Kobe was talking about team, Howard sat down with Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers and talked about his favorite topic. Himself.

In the middle of a four-game losing streak last week, while Kobe Bryant was talking about team, Howard sat down with Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers and talked about his favorite topic. Himself. (Shutterstock image)

Howard had the gall to say that the reason why he fails so much, particularly at the free throw line, where he is abysmally converting on less than 50 percent of his foul shots, is that he cares too much. It’s also why, now in his ninth NBA season, he still hasn’t developed a mid-range jumper, something he claims he routinely makes in practice.

“I hate missing,” he told Simers. “I hate missing so much, I miss. You know why? I’m always thinking I’m going to miss this and then disappoint everyone.”

He calls that caring.

Those of us in sports have another “c” word for that.

Choking.

Howard added that he cares so much, he often cried in Orlando.

“I remember making appearances in Orlando and families asking me to stay and sitting there trying not to cry,” he said.

In 2009, after the Magic lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals, Howard said he cried himself to sleep while listening to an Eminem song called “Lose Yourself,” which evidently is about getting only one shot.

(Somehow, the notion of being able to fall asleep while simultaneously listening to Eminem doesn’t register with me, but I digress.)

Howard said he even cried when the Miami Heat recently won the NBA Finals, because he was both thrilled for LeBron James and upset that he wasn’t playing.

Howard said he even cried when the Miami Heat recently won the NBA Finals, because he was both thrilled for LeBron James, above, and upset that he wasn’t playing. (Shutterstock image)

In order to stop caring so much, Howard said he’s working with Kobe, who is the master at not caring about what people think.

At the same time, he intimated that thus far things haven’t been all that rosy between him and Bryant – with the perception that Howard is a goofball while Bryant is all business.

“We’ve already had our moments,” he said.

Finally, Howard repeated a mantra he has said to me and others about wanting to change the world. (In fact, CLICK HERE for a link to a piece I did with him for Orlando Magazine).

“I feel like I was put on this earth to change the world,” he said. “I wasn’t put on earth just to play basketball. I want to change the world, and this is a great platform to do it.”

And so it goes.

Howard’s narcissism is something those of us who’ve covered him since he was 18 (he’s 27 now) have become used to.

It’s no surprise.

Neither is it a surprise that he also blamed the Magic for his leaving them, telling Simers that the reason why he demanded a trade is because everyone from the owner to the janitor has to believe a team can win a championship, and that this wasn’t the case in Orlando.

“Behind the supposed crocodile tears of a supposedly sensitive human being, the true egomaniac comes out with such lines as, ’I was put on this earth to do something big,’ and ‘I want to be an icon who is remembered in 200 years.’ I would ask, what exactly is your contribution to humanity Dwight Howard? You claim to be this great Christian yet you fathered multiple children out of wedlock. You claim to be someone with a big heart yet you betrayed the franchise and its fans that drafted you, following the example of others in your sport who only care about themselves, MAKING YOU (like LeBum before you) A LIVING EXAMPLE OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH PRO SPORTS.”

Simers’ article ran on both the Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel websites.

Coast to coast, both sets of fans skewered him in comments posted beneath the column.

Comments on the Sentinel website went like this:

— “Many there (in Los Angeles) are now starting turn on Dwight as they’ve discover he’s a shell of his former self and is also more of a product of a system versus an individual talent. This article is just a bunch of fluff. We saw these same bullsh_t articles in Orlando about how much he cares and loyalty and all that crap. As soon as he gets his wish and the coach is fired, he splits anyway.  Dwight, what relevance do you think your caring should have in our lives?  Uhhh…let me answer that for you: Nobody gives a sh_t about how much you care.”

          — “Definitely not someone I want in my foxhole.”

          — “Hogwash. It’s all about the money.”

          — “Oh Geez! Let’s all have a pity-party for poor Dwight! Give me a break! Poor Dwight can’t help blubbering at the drop of a hat. Grow up, for God’s sake! So you want to become a self-absorbed, selfish, egotistical jerk like Kobe, huh? Well you indeed are being taught by the master. Maybe if you had not screwed this franchise, it’s fans, and the city of Orlando you might feel different.”

          — “Why does anyone in Orlando care about this classless loser?”

          — “Dwight Coward is a big crybaby loser. No one here in Orlando gives a darn about him anymore. But we can all revel in the fact that the Lakers and the coward are going NOWHERE this season. LOL!”

And out west, comments on the Los Angeles Times website, where Laker fans reside, went like this:

— “Behind the supposed crocodile tears of a supposedly sensitive human being, the true egomaniac comes out with such lines as, ‘I was put on this earth to do something big,’ and ‘I want to be an icon who is remembered in 200 years.’ I would ask, what exactly is your contribution to humanity Dwight Howard? You claim to be this great Christian yet you fathered multiple children out of wedlock. You claim to be someone with a big heart yet you betrayed the franchise and its fans that drafted you, following the example of others in your sport who only care about themselves, MAKING YOU (like LeBum before you) A LIVING EXAMPLE OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH PRO SPORTS.

          — “This is so deflecting attention away from the real problems with Howard.  What does any of this have to do with constant turnovers, constant whining to the refs and technical fouls and displays of frustration that other teammates can see which brings them down also?  What does caring too much have to do with constantly fouling the other team, or missing free throws so badly that it singlehandedly causes your team losses, or switching quick enough on defense to be effective and keeping your man off the boards?”

          — “Howard’s wearing me out … just play.”

          — ” ‘I feel like I was put on this earth to change the world. I wasn’t put on earth just to play basketball. I want to change the world, and this is a great platform to do it.’ Er. . .uh. . .Just play basketball, Dwight.”

Used to be, not too long ago, Howard had it all in Orlando. He played for a team that was a perennial postseason player and had even advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009. He had growing endorsement opportunities that were picking up a head of steam, making him a mainstream darling in American culture. And he had an adoring fan base in Orlando, practically owning the city.

To be sure, there was some positive posts from Laker fans, but most of the comments were decidedly negative.

Used to be, not too long ago, Howard had it all in Orlando. He played for a team that was a perennial postseason player and had even advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009. He had growing endorsement opportunities that were picking up a head of steam, making him a mainstream darling in American culture. And he had an adoring fan base in Orlando, practically owning the city.

But he left all that for what he thought was a greener pasture in Los Angeles.

And now?

Now, not only is he not better off, but he’s playing for a team with an almost identical losing record as the rebuilding Magic currently have.

Meanwhile, the line of critics on both coasts and around the world is growing. More and more, he is finding boos and catcalls ringing in his ears.

It didn’t have to be that way.

If only Dwight Howard had allowed something else to ring in his ears – i.e. the sage words of Magic owner Rich DeVos.

He’d be better off had he done so.

And he’d be in a better place.


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4 Comments on "PETER K: Howard Totally Eclipsed By Bryant In LA"

  1. Rich Burklew December 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm · Reply

    As usual, great article and insights.

  2. jeff schiff December 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm · Reply

    I’m not a big fan of NBA basketball, but it has been interesting watching the Dwight Howard drama unfold. You’re article was very much to the point, i.e., Dwight grow up!

  3. Charley Hester December 18, 2012 at 8:23 am · Reply

    You may recall that when I read your piece about Howard in “Orlando Magazine”, I wrote to you and expressed the opinion that he was all about ego and greed. None of what I read here surprises me except that I thought the Lakers would be faring better than they are.

  4. Jim Simmons December 18, 2012 at 8:30 am · Reply

    Dwight is never going to grow up. The Magic are a large part of the reason. They babied him and told him how great he was his whole time here. I never got it. He is and will always be one dimensional (rebounding) and is and always be a big time cry baby. They never had the guts to tell him he was more Tree Rollins than Hakeem (or Kareem or any other great center). Hakeem started playing in high school and is one of the 50 Greatest. His turnaround was largely unstoppable. Dwight may care, but he doesn’t care enough to develop. He is and always will be a high school senior, super immature and self centered, thinking saying that you care means you care. I just wish they could have gotten more for him than they did. The Lakers will let him go at the end of the season.

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