On the court, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is a dominant and imposing force at both ends. Away from basketball, though, he's a real personality, someone who at least tries to show a sense of humor (with varying results) and connect with fans on a personal level. In other words, he seems very comfortable with himself and has likely thought about the image he projects to the world in considerable detail.
The NBA lockout — which could cause the NBA to miss games this season — could provide even more time for Howard to pursue those other interests, and he sees the time off as an opportunity for all players to get in touch with the non-basketball player inside of them.
"It's weird, but I think it's a good time for myself and the other guys to really find out what we're all about," Howard said. "Most people view us as just basketball players, and we can use this time to learn about ourselves and explore things that we wouldn't have the time to do if we were in season."
He goes to those extremes to develop a brand and life outside of the NBA arena. Basketball is his platform to see the world, entertain others and help children — something he's taking full advantage of.
This summer he's visited China for a promotional tour, helped tornado victims in Alabama, visited Comic-Con in San Diego to support his cartoon "Kick Buttowski," and hosted numerous events here in Central Florida.
Not every player has Howard's options; he is, after all, a perennial All-Star and one of the best players in the league. But his point is well-taken. With any luck, NBA athletes from Brian Cardinal to Nick Young will go on their own vision quests in the wilderness, finding their personal spirit animals and learning what it takes to defeat their arch-nemeses in local one-on-one tournaments and save their favorite rec centers. If you think that sounds too much like a bad '80s movie, then you obviously don't know much about what basketball players do on vacation.
Howard's suggestion may seem a little hippy-dippy for a league typically obsessed with machismo, but it's a good one. Not every player can get his own cartoon character like Howard, and "soul-searching" may not be the right term here. Still, there's no reason why every locked-out player can't assess his life away from basketball. Athletic careers are finite, so each man on an NBA roster needs to decide what he wants to do after his playing days are done. If they want to go into business, are they prepared to face those challenges? Are they learning the right things to become coaches later in life? Or, if they just want to retire and relax, do they have enough money saved to make that lifestyle work?
These are questions that need answers. With no games set to be played for quite some time, there's no better time to deal with them than now. Plus, maybe achieving some version of inner peace can even improve their play on the court. Dirk Nowitzki is everyone's role model these days, right?