Prior to last night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat, Dwight Howard, recently named to the All-Star Team (his first in the Western Conference), spoke candidly on a subject that has become all too familiar: pressure.
Speaking to reporters in L.A. Howard relayed his thoughts ( via L.A. Times):
“As far as pressure, with our team, everyone expected us to go 82-0 so there's a lot of pressure on us. We feel it every time we step on the court and we can hear it every time we miss a shot or somebody scores. People are upset. They don't expect anybody to score on us. It's a lot of pressure.”
Right around the same time, Robert Horry, retired three-time Laker champion, had this to say about Howard: “Howard is frivolous…he wants to be liked all the time.”
And, then, during the TNT broadcast of the matchup, in which the Lakers lost to the Heat, 99-90 (Howard had 13 points, 16 rebounds, and one block), NBAers from past and present went in on the 27-year-old.
Although recent Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Miller gave the Dwight knob a turn in Howard’s defense (“There’s only so many Artis Gilmores and Charles Oakleys”), the night was full of strong criticism.
Former Laker great, and Superman 1.0, the incomparable Shaquille O’Neal, left little to be (mis)interpreted: “He’s gonna have to step up…and keep on dominating. We don’t wanna see a nice Dwight Howard…Robert Horry was correct – take the headband off and stop smiling.”
In Howard's case, the 27-year-old All-Star center faces a reality crisis in his basketball world, as his manhood is literally being tested on national television by legends, greats, and champions. This isn't about being a man in the real world so much as being a man in the NBA, although the two certainly have their connection points.
Now, Howard and the Lakers have readily admitted that he isn’t 100 percent and likely won’t reach that until sometime later in the season, if at all. Throw in the torn labrum in his shoulder that has required constant monitoring and some rest on the bench, and Howard has been a lame version of his usual self, literally.
However, the reality of being in Los Angeles as a Laker is that remaining a Laker requires that you be willing to accept all consequences of being a member of the Forum blue and gold community. The community is based in greatness, so you have to desire to be profound, in all the ways that your own abilities allow to be. The usual suspects expressed a collective desire to go higher, no matter the circumstances.
Take Magic Johnson (“For me, it always goes back to something I learned in basketball. There’s winning and there’s losing, and in life you have to know they both will happen. But what’s never been acceptable to me is quitting.”) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (“I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.”) – prime examples.
Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, James Worthy, Kobe Bryant, and O’Neal himself ( when he felt like it) – even lesser players like Norm Nixon , Kurt Rambis, and Michael Cooper are legends in their own right, because they sought to be ‘better than’. Men in the other NBA sense, the “No Boys Allowed” aspect of the league.
Howard, on the other hand, says that he’s afraid to expand his game on the court. He’s afraid of disappointing people. He struggles “to find a middle ground.”
As he told The Los Angeles Times, "I hate missing. I hate missing so much, I miss. You know why? I'm always thinking I'm going to miss this and then disappoint everyone."
With Howard, it remains to be seen just how great he desires to be, but it seems he is only man enough when he's riding high. Remember what he did in before? When winning was not assured? He failed to establish a middle ground, he protested behind media reports, he whined and groaned and made no case for definitive terms. As a Laker, the premium is about championships, and he's ignorant about being a winner. He's a personality who likes to win, not a winner who happens to have personality.
Is the exchange rate for remaining a Laker too high for Howard? You can be the judge. You ever wonder whyhe has preferred the city of New York to Lakerland, USA? Look at the expectations. In The Empire State, no matter what the team, Howard could be king of the land just making the Playoffs; after all, with a 40-year championship drought in play between the five boroughs , just being in the discussion is good enough. But in The City of Angels? Where championships have become commonplace within the last three decades? Winning big is the answer, a thirst that if left unchecked, can become insatiable, but we haven’t seen that thirst.
Where’s his pride? Not so much as a Laker (yet), but his willingness to do what it takes to preserve his on-court constitution? None of us can judge what the man is feeling like. It’s widely known Howard is playing as a weaker man, physically, but there are no excuses when you put your butt out there on that court, right? So are there any excuses for this?:
As The Shadow League’s own Vincent Goodwill opined:
Let’s not make Dwight a victim here, either.
Initially avoiding LA because you didn’t wanna follow in Shaq’s footsteps? That’s weak, dude, along with your flip-flopping as you screwed up your departure from Orlando. It seems the last person in your ear is the person you’ll follow.
In the end, it’s all about what Howard desires to be. It’s not the end of the world ( thank you, Mayans), and it’s not the end of his career, but the veil has been removed from the eyes of observers, fans, and critics. Disneyland isn’t going to distract anyone, there are no Stan Van Gundys to blabber about the mouth (even if he does speak a ton of truth), and there are no remnants of the pre-man Dwight Howard that came to the league in 2004.
Howard must grasp his opportunities to be even more successful carefully, but he must desire it first. As he intimated to ESPN Los Angeles, he doesn’t “have to bark about it” and he doesn’t have to “grown and snarl at people”. He doesn’t even have to “go pissing everywhere to show people” anything. All Howard has to do is want better and embrace what he has now. He already has lost some portions of his health and dignity – does he want to lose his opportunity to obtain a greater legacy as well?
Prosperity is begat by accountability. Maybe somebody needs to give Howard a beach chair and a pair of shades to see the right kind of light.
"You know when you're at the beach and you bend down to grab some sand?" Howard began . "What happens when you grab it too tightly? It all falls out, right? And what happens when you don't grab it tight enough? It all blows away, right? You have to hold it just tight enough. Just right.”
At this point, Howard needs to make it right and make it tight. No excuses, no sand in the hands, no fear of criticism or hate. Nothing. Just man up, play ball, and do work.