At some point in the next few days Dwight Howard should pick up the phone and call his good buddy LeBron James. Howard can pick James’ brain about winning a championship for the first time, wish him luck in next months’ Olympics, and most importantly, ask him what it’s like to be the most heavily scrutinized basketball player on the planet.
The answer to that last question might stand Howard in good stead because, fairly or unfairly, that distinction is about to fall squarely on his massive shoulders.
In the two years between his move to South Beach, and his recent glorious redemption in the NBA Finals, James faced relentless questioning and criticism—some of it fair, but much of it irrational and ridiculously self-righteous and preachy.
But now that James has his ring, and has dispelled the notion that he lacked the necessary intangibles to pair with all the amazing tangible facets of his game, the pressure is off. James will now pass that burden of pressure onto Howard.
Just like James, Howard is a pretty nice guy. He hasn’t broken the law, he participates in charity work, signs autographs for kids, and probably pays his taxes on time. Unfortunately, for those in the spotlight, especially those making millions of dollars, the standard that qualifies you as being a ‘good guy’ is quite a bit higher.
You and I can make lousy career decisions, say things that we shouldn’t, and on occasions, slack off at work. It certainly isn’t amplified in anywhere near the same way.
But don’t get me wrong, in the vicious court of public opinion, Howard has rightly been found guilty on a number of counts. He held his team hostage for a good portion of last season, with an excruciating contract saga that made him seem immature and in serious need of a good P.R. rep.
Just when we thought that the drama was over, after Howard opted in for one more year, the revelations regarding Howard requesting Stan Van Gundy’s termination, once again painted the big-man in a not-so-positive light.
Fast forward to the present, where accusations of blackmail and, of course, another inevitable trade request, has meant that public opinion on the league’s most dominant center has never been lower.
What all this essentially means in the long run, however, is that wherever Howard ends up—be it Brooklyn, Dallas, Atlanta, L.A., or somewhere else unforeseen—the pressure to win, and win soon, will be immense. And not just because of all the recent ugliness in Orlando.
Even setting aside a year’s worth of negative headlines, the jury is still out on Howard regarding his abilities on the court. Admittedly that sounds a little ridiculous at first. Howard is undeniably the game’s most dominant big-man and a top-ten player in the NBA. Quite frankly, Howard was robbed of another Defensive Player of the Year award last season—likely because of all the aforementioned negative drama.
At the offensive end, you can mark him down as one of the few players in the league who demands a double team on every possession. Just like it was with James, however, the finer points of Howard’s game are continually in question.
Does he take the game seriously enough? Can he add another dimension to his limited low-post game? Will he ever improve his free throw shooting to the point where he’s not a complete liability down the stretch?
Those are just some of the questions surrounding Dwight Howard the basketball player. Add those to the emerging questions surrounding Dwight Howard the man, and it’s clear that the intense glare of the media will be firmly fixed on his every move.
Can the NBA’s premier center emulate the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell? Or, will Howard fail to live up to his massive potential and end up like the ring-less Patrick Ewing — a career unfulfilled.
This type of legacy debating was going to fall on Howard sooner or later, but a combination of poor decision making on his part, and the fact that the media now needs a new whipping boy, has drastically accelerated the process.
The fix is in. The narrative is set. And like it or not, Dwight Howard, the pressure is on.