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The two-year ‘swoon’ of Dwight Howard


A super fall from grace

Two years. It’s really not that long a  period of time. But it’s amazing how much things can change over that stretch, no? Take Dwight Howard. I am not an Orlando Magic or LA Lakers fan, nor do I profess to be a Howard aficionado or experts. That said, it feels like his transformation from lovable big man to detestable big baby has been swift and somewhat shocking in its comprehensiveness (and not without some legitimate reason). Rarely can I recall someone dropping so far in the court of public opinion sans a more egregious act or behavior (betrayal, crime, comments, whatever) so swiftly.

Think about it. Let’s go back two years ago and just remind everyone of the “old” Dwight Howard. You know, the one who was 25 years old during the 2010-11 season and playing center for the Orlando Magic. His Magic were coming off a 59-win season and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. He was a big man in his prime. A dominant, freakish athlete. A cornerstone of a franchise.

That season, though it ended in a first-round playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks, was a banner year in many ways for Howard. The Magic ended the regular season 52-30 and 2nd in the Southeast Division. Dwight Howard flourished. His 22.9 points were a career high to which he added more than 14 rebounds/game and nearly 2.5 blocks. The campaign included his fifth straight All-Star game. Life was good. And this is the type of thing we came to expect from the seemingly fun-loving and carefree “Superman.”

In addition to getting kudos for his impersonation skills, the experts thought so highly of Howard’s 2010-11 performance that he finished 2nd in the voting for league MVP. Derek Rose took the award handily, but D-Howard garnered more votes for the accolade than LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

That was then, this is…WTF happened!!?? Howard has gone from superhero to villain. Coming off a contentious final season in Orlando, checkered by a bad back, bad press and bad results in Orlando. What followed was an almost laughable offseason drama played across America — in New Jersey, New York, Dallas and, of course, Los Angeles. By the summer of 2012, many fans of those teams had grown so sick of Howard’s waffling and posturing…even if he could help their squads. So many of us just craved silence. Make a decision and go away.

It seemed Howard’s eventual arrival in Hollywood might help turn the tide on the souring towards Howard — away from his newly-minted image of the ultimate primadona. He could just play ball now that he’s in a “better situation.”

howardlakersNo such luck. Instead, Hollywood has been hellish for Howard and the Lakers. The dreams of the Nash-Kobe-Howard triumvirate elevating LA’s title hopes have evaporated into thin air in a far-from-invisible public soap opera. Howard has underachieved and drawn the ire of Bryant. Their feud, initially laughed off, now appears to be ongoing and not-too-subtle.

Both Bryant and Nash are questioning Howard’s toughness and commitment as the Lake Show struggles to maintain even a .500 (they enter the night 23-26 and would fail to even reach the playoffs if the season ended today. Howard meanwhile is putting up career lows in points per game and is averaging the fewest rebounds per contest in his nine-year career aside from his rookie stint.

It’s been a precipitous fall from dominance for one of the league’s brightest young stars, who seems to be aging and alienating with every passing day. Superman’s not looking so super now. And folks are just waiting for what might be the next shoe to drop. Oh how quickly things have changed.

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