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Ball Don't Lie

Video: Dwight Howard comes out firing in new ‘Call of Duty’ ad

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

On Tuesday, video game publisher Activision will release "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," the eighth installment in its wildly successful first-person shooter series. As they did before releasing its predecessor, "Call of Duty: Black Ops," in November 2010, the game's makers aimed to stoke consumer interest by airing a slick live-action commercial for the new title during Sunday's NFL slate.

Just like last year's model, the highly stylized ad features a raft of explosions (including a rocket-propelled grenade decimating a high-rise office building), Hollywood stars blasting their way through chaos (goodbye, Jimmy Kimmel; hello, Jonah Hill and Sam Worthington) and a recognizable stomp-rock soundtrack ("Shoot to Thrill" replaces "Gimme Shelter").

You know what else was brought back from last year's spot? An NBA superstar making a cameo appearance. Last year, it was Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers; this year, it's Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic.

Here's the spot, courtesy of the official "Call of Duty" YouTube channel:

My first thought after seeing the commercial echoed one forwarded by Brian Sipple at the gaming site StickSkills: It'll be interesting to see if one other element of last year's ad — the loud media backlash that Bryant faced for firing a machine gun in a major national commercial — carries over, too.

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The new commercial carries over last year's theme of there being "a soldier in all of us," though this time that message abandons the framing device of random civilians walking around and firing assault rifles. Instead, Worthington and Hill play camo-clad soldiers working their way through bombed-out cityscapes to represent the evolution of a gamer from Hill's unskilled newcomer ("n00b") to Worthington's experienced player ("vet").

Howard shows up at the 1:20 mark of the ad, spraying wide fields of fire and letting lose a Ric Flair-style "Woo!" before running off-screen as newly-minted vet Hill smirks at his exuberance. The life cycle continues; n00bs spring eternal.

The Magic star will also reportedly participate in "Friday Night Fights," an "original TV series created exclusively for the 'Call of Duty' community" that will feature "real world rivals from all walks of life — including celebrities in head-to-head competitions playing 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.'" Howard will appear alongside the likes of Michelle Rodriguez ("Lost," "The Fast and the Furious"), Jack Osborne ("The Osbornes") and Good Charlotte (Your Nightmares) in the subscription-only series.

After his appearance in the "Black Ops" ad last November, Bryant got filleted in the press, most notably by ESPN, which devoted a fair amount of column space and airtime to discussions of whether or not (but, mostly, by exactly how much) Bryant had crossed the line by aiming and firing on the small screen. As I wrote then, provided the obvious safety issues surrounding someone firing live weapons have been addressed and all the relevant parties have signed off on it, I think a grown man who likes playing video games should be allowed to endorse the video games he likes to play. I understand why some people have a problem with it; I just disagree with them.

The more interesting issue to me here is whether or not Dwight Howard — Superman 2.0, publicly devout Christian, he of the beaming smile and purveyor of all things light-hearted comedy — will get raked over the coals the same way that Kobe Bryant — he of the jutting jaw and polarizing persona, forever hearing snarling invocations of Eagle, Colo., as evidence that he's a bad guy whose every action is tainted — was after his commercial aired.

If I was a betting man, I'd lay odds that there won't be quite the same level of vitriol for Howard as there was for Bryant, despite the fact that we can watch Dwight donning battle gear and gleefully spraying bullets, too. On one hand, it'd be cool with me for people to decide that they don't actually care about stuff like this; on the other, it'd be pretty hypocritical to decide that they don't care about it because they like the guy who's in the ad.

Maybe I'm wrong; maybe this will be the kind of thing that tarnishes Howard's image in the eyes of wholesome fans. We should know a lot more about whether or not my read's right before the end of the week, by which time "Modern Warfare 3" will have probably sold about 75 million copies to people who were going to buy the game no matter who was lobbing the grenades in the commercial.

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