Dwight Howard has long been known for posing like and flying through the air as Superman, which we dug mostly because it enraged Shaquille O’Neal (the previous generation’s self-styled Superman) along the way.
In a recent talk with USA Today’s Sam Amick, Howard revealed that another superhero tale has been supplying him with influence and good cheer; and the quotes aren’t even coming from the superhero this time. No, it is Batman’s butler Alfred, via the 2012 film ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ that Howard is paying attention to:
"I actually wrote (them) down and can tell it to you — it's from Batman," Howard tells USA TODAY Sports. "Batman and Alfred were having a discussion (in the 2012 Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises), and Batman didn't like what was going on and he felt like the best thing he could do was just hide.
"Alfred told him, 'You have to endure it. You have to take it. People will hate you for it, but that's the point of being a legend. You can be that outcast. You can make the choice that no one else can make, and that's the right choice.' "
The image of Dwight Howard, camped out in his home studio (probz), cribbing notes as Michael Caine’s character advises Batman is a fantastic one. It might even get this Michael Keaton devotee to give Christian Bale’s turn a spot in my Netflix queue.
Whatever the inspiration, and whatever jokes you want to make at Howard’s expense, he’s not far off in aligning himself with greatness untapped.
Yes, Howard is pairing this revelation with an inflated sense of self-importance, but why shouldn’t he feel that bloated? He is, at best, the NBA’s top center, and a player 30 out of 30 NBA teams would happily throw hundreds of millions of dollars at without reservation. We want our best players to be legends, and while Howard isn’t exactly referring to himself directly as that sort of thing, he is at least indirectly attempting to live up to expectations that aren’t exactly wild.
Howard may very well disappoint in Houston. His offensive game could stagnate, or he could whine and moan and chafe if things don’t go his way, or if the pressure of falling short of the Finals or championship gets to him. He may have been criticized for leaving the exposure of Hollywood behind, but in basketball terms the pressure to win will be even stronger in Houston. Because nobody was expecting him to do much of anything this year with an injured Kobe Bryant, and limping Steve Nash.
In the (very good) interview with Amick, Howard discusses Kevin Durant’s success in the relatively small confines of Oklahoma City as part of the reason he wanted to move away from the coast and to (the still surprisingly underrated in terms of total population) Houston. The problem with that pining is that Durant had already signed a major contract extension and led the Thunder to the Finals by the time Howard was traded to Los Angeles. Let’s face it; it was Los Angeles that made Howard pine for something smaller.
It was also Howard’s tact in the face of Los Angeles’ brain trust that prompted that erroneous report from ESPN’s Chris Broussard that Howard had yet to decide between the Lakers and Rockets late on July 5th, despite Amick’s earlier report that Dwight had agreed to terms with Houston. Howard wasn’t waffling; he just wanted to tell the Lakers in person. From USA Today:
"That was not the case," Howard says. "I was very upset about it when all that stuff started to come out, because that's not what was going on. I decided … the night before it came out, and my thinking was, 'Let me get back to L.A. and sit in front of Mitch (Kupchak, Lakers general manager) and give the Lakers that respect.' I wanted to tell them in person.
"There was no (thought of), 'Oh man, hold up, let me think about this again.' The night before, when I had decided, I sat down with everybody — my agent, my best friend who was there and my bodyguard, and we talked. I said this is where I want to go. I told my dad that this is where I want to go. I said tomorrow, when I get home, we're going to talk to the Lakers. I'm going to tell the other teams on the phone, and that's what I did."
This was the adult, responsible thing to do. Something that flew in the face of embarrassing potential suitors or a former team on national TV, as LeBron James did in 2010. Howard learned from that.
Hopefully he learned from his embarrassing 2012-13 campaign, as well. Because while Howard was a mensch in going back to Los Angeles to tell Kupchak in person, understand that this was the person that disappointed the Lakers all season with his off-court antics and performance, two worlds that colluded to end with a pathetic outburst in his final game as a Laker during the playoffs.
Dwight’s particular decision from last July is just about the only bright spot on the last two and a half years of his career. He completely held the Orlando Magic franchise hostage during the 2011-12 season, an issue the Magic front office no doubt created and sustained but certainly something that the Magic and Howard should not have dragged Magic fans through. And his fitful and at times embarrassing run with the Lakers last season left nobody wanting to even look at a basketball once that campaign ended.
This is to say, despite making the best basketball and personal decision he could in joining the Rockets, it’s going to take more than a few speeches from Alfred to ready Dwight Howard for what’s left to come. This isn’t Orlando, and this isn’t Los Angeles. This challenge is going to be completely different, and far tougher.
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