It shouldn't be so rough for Dwight Howard. The Houston Rockets' big man with the massive shoulders and biceps, 1000-kilowatt smile and an ability to dunk at absurd levels should be well-liked.
Of course, you'd be wrong. Howard has found a way to turn multiple NBA fan bases against him while also having players say things to him that would make your mother blush. Kevin Durant recently felt comfortable enough to talk crazy at Howard while his leg was still in a boot. Kobe Bryant felt bold enough to squabble with Howard for a rebound, which then turned into an epic back and forth conversation. Other players haven't been shy in letting Howard know how they feel.
All of this happens even though Howard's teammates have mostly positive things to say about him, both in Orlando and so far in Houston. Yet it seems that Howard's image is tarnished by others who have prolonged exposure to the big men.
Here's the question: should people hate Dwight Howard as much as they do?
Before we answer, let's take a quick trip down memory lane:
The exit from Orlando
Of course, Magic fans are more bitter due to the incessant flip-flopping that occurred in Howard's final days with the franchise. He strongly suggested he wanted to be traded, then told the fan base that "my heart, my soul and everything I have is in Orlando." He had one foot out the door, then re-upped for one more year on a team plane. That only made things worse: Howard held Orlando hostage by refusing to commit beyond that season and the Magic finally traded him. They haven't been the same since.
It sure didn't help that once he left the Magic, he called his former teammates players that "nobody wanted." Cue up the hating.
Clashing with Kobe
Once he got to L.A., Howard messed with the demigod. When that happens, bad things happen. There were insinuations that he wanted the Lakers to trade Kobe Bryant, use the amnesty clause on Kobe Bryant, fight Kobe Bryant, etc. All the while, Dwight was selling the fan base on the idea that the one player he'd love to play with more than anyone was ... Kobe Bryant. Howard learned a valuable lesson: when you come at Kobe with the hate, Lakers fans will rip your head off.
Perception becomes reality
Maybe it's the mohawk haircut. Maybe it's the incessant whining. Maybe it's because Howard has access to Kevin McHale, Yao Ming, Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon and still looks robotic in the post. Maybe it's the fact that Howard carries himself like he's the toughest guy on the court, but no one on Earth believes him. What's worse is that Howard isn't the type to retaliate in any form or fashion, which has earned him the worst label anyone could own in professional sports: soft.
Here's multiple examples of Dwight Howard being slandered by his peers in the NBA community.
- Durant uses some unsavory terms in Howard's face while on the bench in a leg cast.
- LaMarcus Aldridge is also a fan of using the same terminology as KD apparently.
- Maybe Kobe was feeling some type of way? Good grief.
And it's not just words in the heat of battle. Future Hall of Famer Gary Payton expressed similar thoughts on FOX Sports Live.
"I think he’s disliked by a lot of players. What Dwight does is, you know you see all the smiles and all the antics, that is getting on player’s nerves. To get this guy, Kevin Durant, to do what he did, you know it’s starting to become a problem with players, because Kevin Durant doesn’t really talk to anybody … [Durant] goes at people that are fake with stuff. Only fake guys. Fake guys to me are when they’re always woofing, woofing, woofing, and they don’t really do nothing."
Is this fair to Howard?
Howard made me a believer when he carried the 2008-09 Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals. He took on the bullies that were the Boston Celtics, knocked out LeBron James' best Cavaliers team and willed Orlando to a places it hadn't been to in 14 years. That was the Dwight Howard I enjoyed. That was the bar he set so high that made us believe in him in the first place.
For many others, those moments of high performance have been few and far between. Outside of a highlight dunk or block, the general public sadly doesn't have much to say about Howard's performance.
But the truth is that Howard has been a catalyst for elite team defense, and that's something worth loving as a basketball fan. The Houston Rockets are second in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions this year after finishing 12th last season with two defensive sieves on the perimeter. Howard plays a major role in that. The Rockets have nothing but positive things to say about Howard and his interactions in the locker room and with teammates. Howard's still the best center in the league, and it's not even a close debate no matter how well Marc Gasol is playing.
Yes, Howard is annoying at times. But annoying isn't a reason to trash one's basketball reputation this much.*
*Though if you're a Magic or Lakers fan, you at least have your reasons.