Earlier today, Brian posted the edited version of Ric Bucher's Sunday Conversation with Dwight Howard for SportsCenter. But for those folks with a hankering to hear even more from Superman, the whole enchilada has also been posted. A lot of ground was covered, ranging from Dwight's rehab regiment to his excitement over being a Laker to his better-than-likely-expected relationship with former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. But I wanted to focus on a comment that could be positively instructive in gauging the year ahead, and perhaps even beyond, for Howard.
Bucher asked Howard what, while looking back on the "Dwightmare," he'd do over if possible. The center insisted he has no regrets, that everything happens for a reason, and he ultimately wouldn't change a thing because the final result was positive. That being said, he still recognizes the chance to reclaim his image.
"This is a great time in my career," explained Howard. "I have a chance to start over. This is a clean slate. I'm gonna do whatever I can on the court, off the court, to just show people that this is who I am. I haven't changed. I'm the same person. I love to have fun. I love to smile. I love to joke. But when I step on the court, I'm gonna have fun. I'm gonna joke. And I'm gonna dominate. That's how it's always been."
I realize there are fans who'll chafe at this sentiment, as Dwight's taken heat over the years for not taking the game seriously enough. Some don't care for the impersonations, funny interviews and persistent grin. Personally, I think it's pretty difficult to win Defensive Player of the Year three consecutive years, lead the league in rebounds four times and carry a team to a Finals appearance without being fully invested, but that's just me. There are those who prefer players like Kobe and MJ who remain in "steely assassin" mode 24/7 and that's fine. Everyone is entitled to their own aesthetics.
But at the same time, a player is also entitled to his own identity, and cultivating an unnatural persona is often a recipe for failure. Hearing Dwight insist on being who he is reminded me of the way LeBron James mentioned on several occasions last season his concerted effort to bring back the joy to his game. When he left Cleveland, he was cast as the villain, and James made the mistake of trying to embody the persona chosen for him by fans and media. Unfortunately, NBA basketball isn't WWE wrestling, where good guys and bad guys are determined through a writer's meeting. This is real life, where being hated ain't fun. LeBron was transparently uncomfortable in the role of the heel, and one season later stopped playing the game from a place of spite.
Safe to say, quality results followed.
Similarly, I'm hoping Dwight remains comfortable enough to be himself in L.A. Under any circumstances, he'll be playing basketball inside a metaphorical fishbowl placed underneath a high-powered microscope. That's life as a Laker if you're Troy Murphy, much less a Hall-of-Fame caliber player arriving on the heels of a PR disaster. It is what it is, and it can't be changed. However, the transition will ultimately be made easier by Howard not trying to be someone he isn't. As Howard acknowledged many times in this conversation, you can't please everybody. Then again, being himself has played out pretty well for Howard over eight years in the NBA. Fundamentally, there's no reason to drastically change, and trying to might cause more problems than it solves.
The videos can be seen below by clicking on the "more" tab.
Part I, on Howard's back, the rehab process and his eventual return to the court.
Part II, on his final season in Orlando, feeling hated and the decision to join the Lakers.
Part III, on the Lakers, the franchise's history of great centers and getting back on the court.
Part IV, on his feelings about the Magic and the reception possibly awaiting him in Orlando.
Part V, on his relationship with Van Gundy and his desire to win a title.