Noted provocateur and Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers' latest piece on Lakers center Dwight Howard may come off as a surprise to some, but we're less moved by Howard's admissions. Dwight Howard cries a lot at things that would make anyone with half a heart tear up — visiting children who were needlessly given a life-threatening illness, watching friends climb to the top of their profession, losing out on a chance to climb to the same tip of that professional mountain, and seeing fictional characters mowed down by bad guys in a movie. It's all normal stuff, presenting as something out of the ordinary. A perfect marriage of a columnist looking for an easy hook, and a superstar replete with everything that makes him human and typical, but so out of touch with reality that he thinks this is news.
Here are Simers and Howard's list of things that, yeah, you're kind of supposed to cry about without regret or promotion:
"I remember making appearances in Orlando and families asking me to stay and sitting there trying not to cry," he says.
He says that when LeBron James won the championship he cried, thrilled for LeBron and upset he wasn't playing.
He cries a lot.
"I'm emotional," he says.
No, you're normal.
This is all pitched to portray Dwight as the center who cares, when every single one of the NBA's players do charity work and, believe it or not, alternately feel happy for that year's champions while regretful that they couldn't achieve the same cause for celebration. It's not news that Dwight Howard, the guy that was talked into committing to play the 2012-13 season with an Orlando Magic team he wanted absolutely nothing to do with, wants to please people.
It's hard to work with the eyes of the basketball world upon you in May and June, whether you're going up against the Lakers in the 2009 Finals or your hero from Boston in the 2010 conference championship. Still, we spent parts of Thursday re-watching some of Howard's less celebrated, League Pass-only games from this season. Back injury or not, playing the Cleveland Cavaliers on a Tuesday or Utah Jazz on a Sunday in December is different from the klieg lights of playoff summer. So are most of these other games, with ABC weeks away from fixing their cameras on The Lakers' Next Great Center.
Dwight is playing self-conscious basketball after a lifetime of acting with little to no self-awareness. The Lakers don't need him to show his fangs. They need him to play with a reckless style that could earn him three fouls by the second quarter — but won't, because referees trust superstars and Dwight's athleticism allows him to take chances while leaving his opponent's body unscathed. Kobe Bryant's the clear alpha dog, here, and yet Dwight is complaining as if the pressure is on him to lead the team to a title.
Forget that. Just run and jump a lot. Show your face better on a pick and roll, and make that point guard think twice about choosing to drive instead of dish on Chris Duhon.
Happily allowed to change people's minds while sitting in a chain restaurant with a major newspaper columnist, Dwight went on:
"I hate missing," he says. "I hate missing so much, I miss. You know why? I'm always thinking I'm going to miss this and then disappoint everyone."
We all do, Dwight. There's absolutely nothing wrong, nor remarkable about that. I don't work on TV taking hooks in the lane, but I do write columns and I want to write them well. Once I finish writing them, they're out of my hands and left for others to judge, and I don't want to disappoint anyone. It's how it goes. And if the pressure is too much, I should stop and find another job that works behind the scenes and leaves me less prone to judgment.
You work between the lines. It stinks to miss shots and to disappoint people, but that's the path you chose when you decided to cash in on your fabulous gifts and jump to the NBA straight out of high school. If it's too much, then decline all the contract offers teams will throw your way next July, and find another profession. Because right now, as was the case in 2011-12, you are leading the league in Having It Both Ways.
Provided all the pieces are in place and every significant player is healthy, Dwight Howard will be awarded a dream team to work with this spring. No bench, we submit, but all the other needed factors are in place. One of the best point guards in NBA history. A big man counterpart that sacrifices his own numbers, thinks on the fly, and remains effusively hopeful in the face of scrutiny. A frontcourt partner willing to make the hard foul before the center has to. And an alpha-dog to end all alpha-dogs, sometimes to a prickish degree, one that already has five rings to blind you with.
All Dwight has to do is make up for the fact that none of those people can stay in front of their man anymore. He doesn't have to hit jumpers, nail 90 out of 100 free throws, or worry about missed shots. He has to do the things that most tuning in on ABC don't regularly pay attention to, like hedge accurately and aggressively on a screen and roll, or show in the lane before running out of the paint after an opponent passes on sending up a shot because of his presence. He has to be the Defensive Player of the Year, again.
Until that comes around, spare us the details of everything he cries at. A properly-placed wedding picture or strong harmonic chorus will drive most of us to tears. It's normal. It's human. It's when you don't cry; that's when you should worry. That's when it's news.
The only people (besides sportswriters, looking for an easy column) that will be surprised by this are the ones that think Dwight Howard is superhuman. The ones that actually believe Superman is real. Get over it, and let the man play silly basketball again.