OK, as unfathomable is it may seem, it is true: Dwight Howard is approaching LeBron James territory as one of the most hated and destructive players in the league. The only difference now is that James at least had the decency to leave Cleveland before dismantling the franchise; Howard is tearing the Magic apart from the inside.
Howard has transformed from one of the most beloved players in the league to one of the most hated. But this didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen over the span of a year. No, this has been brewing for much longer than that.
Surely, the fact that within the last year Howard has demanded to be traded, opted in, held an entire city hostage, opted out, rescinded his trade request in order to force his way into free agency, opted in again, and tried to get rid of his coach all contribute to this relatively new phenomenon. However, the beginning of the legend of how Superman became his own kryptonite has a definitive start date: February 14, 2009. Hell, I could give you an exact time if you pressed me hard enough.
That date doesn’t ring a bell for you? How about this?
That was the date we should have known Howard could never be trusted, would never grow into a superstar on a championship team, and that he cared much more about national media attention than basketball itself.
From the second I saw this I knew it reeked. Something inside me told me this wasn’t right. And in a matter of seconds, a seemingly harmless and undeniably popular Howard earned my suspicions. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t really articulate it well enough to get anyone else to jump on my bandwagon. More than three years later, Howard has made the argument for me.
Let us start with the obvious: Howard allowed himself to be made a spectacle on national television. Ok, yes, the Slam Dunk Contest is all about fun. I agree. But you can have plenty of fun without being the butt of the joke. Oh, I don’t know, how about you just win the thing?
Instead, Howard chose to be remembered as a prop in the show and not as the show itself. He was fine with letting someone else do the dirty work while he still got plenty of attention for it.
And the fact is that Howard still seeks that attention to this day. But he is not willing to do the “dirty work” needed to earn that spotlight. He was ready to jump ship and go somewhere where he could get more attention. Somewhere where he could more readily promote his “brand.” He does not want to commit to a franchise and develop a team the way Magic Johnson, Hakim Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and other all time greats did.
And you know what? It is not fair that Howard is held to the same standard as these legends, but by possessing such extraordinary talent that’s what is going to happen.
Michael Jordan is certainly the standard of competitiveness to which all superstars should be held. Jordan is the epitome of a player who will stop at nothing to win and, surprising as it may seem, recent stars such as Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and Tim Duncan hold up to this ridiculously high standard fairly well. Howard, on the other hand, seems to embody the exact opposite.
Can you imagine, if in a Slam Dunk contest back in the day, Spud Webb asked Jordan if he could dunk over him for one of his dunks? The conversation would go a little something like this:
Webb: “Hey, MJ, let’s put on a good show. By the way, can I jump over you for one of my dunks.”
Jordan: “F*#% no, I’m going to beat your ass.”
And Jordan’s response would have sounded eerily similar if the proposition of teaming up with another superstar came along. Jordan did not want to defer to anyone else and did not want to team up with anyone else. No, Jordan wanted to BEAT everyone else.
Meanwhile, Howard is more concerned with putting on a show and keeping the spotlight directly on himself. No, he certainly does not have to be Michael Jordan, but if Howard wants to be a franchise player, the least he could do is focus more on the game and less on the spotlight and his brand.
It began way back then on that fateful day and we should have seen it coming. We should have seen it coming when Howard allowed a lesser player to beat him because he wanted to be part of the fun, wanted to have the attention on him.
Obviously, this one event cannot explain the phenomenon that has become known as the Dwightmare. But, it was the beginning of the end for Howard. He still longs for the attention he did then and continues to not take the game as seriously as one would like.
In fact, Howard has evolved to such a point that I would not want my favorite team to pick him up. Despite his obvious and overwhelming talent, Howard is entirely unpredictable, cannot commit, has proven he will force out one of the best coaches in the league, and has turned his entire team against him. Nope, I’ll be just fine with Dwight the sideshow ruining someone else’s favorite team.