How the N.B.A. Forgot Dwight Howard


The individuals who watched Dwight Howard dominate the N.B.A. up shut don’t want reminders of how nice he as soon as was.

They keep in mind when he and LeBron James had been the greatest gamers in the league. They keep in mind what made Howard a three-time defensive participant of the yr, an eight-time All-Star and a member of the All-N.B.A. first crew 5 years in a row.

When they noticed the N.B.A.’s seventy fifth anniversary listing of the greatest gamers ever, chosen by a panel of media, gamers and coaches, they realized somebody had been forgotten: Howard.

“That was kind of crazy,” mentioned Otis Smith, the former Orlando Magic normal supervisor, who constructed groups round Howard.

Said Stan Van Gundy, who coached him at his peak: “Whatever the reason that he got left out, there’s something more than basketball to it.”

In the decade since Howard dominated the league, he has gone from centerpiece of a finals crew to disappointing star to doubted function participant. The N.B.A.’s 75 greatest listing, which ended up with 76 gamers due to a tie, was only one instance of how Howard’s once-undeniable affect is now challenged.

Howard is now a part of a Lakers crew hailed for being crammed with gamers virtually sure to make the Hall of Fame. During these conversations, the gamers cited are often Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony. But Howard’s identify is usually not noted, regardless of a listing of accomplishments few can match. Among this group of Lakers, he performs the least, at round quarter-hour per sport, and his legacy is questioned most frequently.

The man who was as soon as James’s best adversary has light into the background.

“Why do you think people don’t like you?” Charles Barkley, in his function as a TNT analyst, requested Howard throughout a studio present in 2016.

After a little bit of forwards and backwards, Howard answered: “I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way that situation ended, I think people felt I’m just this bad guy.”

He spent eight seasons with the Magic, who drafted him No. 1 general out of highschool in 2004. Despite his outsize physique, basketball acumen and expertise, he confronted critiques even then — usually about whether or not he smiled an excessive amount of.

“Our core group, we understood each other and if it was time to not joke, we would just tell him, ‘Not right now,’ or he could sense it,” mentioned Jameer Nelson, the Magic’s place to begin guard whereas Howard was there. “We were winning so many games during that time it’s almost like, how can you tell somebody not to joke when you’re still winning? You’re still statistically one of the best teams in the league on both ends of the floor.”

Howard led the Magic to the N.B.A. finals in 2009 after beating James’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. The Magic misplaced to the Lakers in the N.B.A. finals, and misplaced in the Eastern Conference finals in 2010.

Then bother began. There had been rumblings Howard wished out of Orlando. Nelson recalled commerce rumors rising about different gamers. Sometimes these gamers questioned if Howard was behind them.

“It was a painful time even coming to work,” Nelson mentioned.

One day, Van Gundy instructed reporters Howard was attempting to oust him, and Howard, not figuring out what had simply been mentioned, playfully crashed Van Gundy’s information convention with a smile. The awkward second — Howard together with his arm throughout the shoulders of a soda-sipping Van Gundy — turned a meme.

“I’m not trying to run from it,” Van Gundy mentioned in a telephone interview just lately. “I don’t think the incident that he and I had — we only had one — I don’t think it reflected real well on either one of us.”

The Magic traded Howard to the Lakers earlier than the 2012-13 season. The Phoenix Suns had traded guard Steve Nash to the Lakers a month earlier, and the pair appeared on the cowl of Sports Illustrated along with a now-infamous headline: “Now This Is Going to Be Fun.”

Nash, who had received two Most Valuable Player Awards in Phoenix, broke his leg in the second sport of the season. Howard struggled by accidents and clashed with Kobe Bryant, the face of the crew. The Lakers went 45-37 and Howard was an All-Star once more. But after the season ended with a first-round loss in the playoffs, he moved on as a free agent, forsaking an enraged fan base.

Howard selected Houston, one other crew that anticipated him to assist it win a championship and that had even staged a particular information convention with Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming. But this crew, with a proficient guard in James Harden, additionally wouldn’t be constructed round Howard.

“You could tell it was different for him,” mentioned Corey Brewer, who joined the Rockets in Howard’s second yr there.

There had been stories of discontent between Howard and Harden.

“They were just different,” Brewer mentioned. “I wouldn’t say it didn’t mesh. Just different personalities. I don’t feel like they had any problems that I knew of. We were trying to win.”

With Howard and Harden, the Rockets made it to the Western Conference finals throughout the 2014-15 season and misplaced to Golden State. Critiques of Howard’s sport continued; Barkley, for instance, mentioned usually that Howard by no means improved his sport after his time in Orlando.

All the whereas, the sport was altering, making conventional facilities like Howard much less efficient. After yet another season in Houston, Howard spent the subsequent 5 years on 5 groups — the Atlanta Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets, the Washington Wizards, the Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers. He was additionally traded to the Grizzlies and the Nets, then waived earlier than taking part in any video games. He returned to the Lakers this season for a 3rd stint.

One night in Washington, after a sport early in his lone season there, an area employee screamed “Brick!” when Howard missed apply free throws, in accordance with The Washington Post and The Athletic.

Howard didn’t spend a lot time bodily with the Wizards, sidelined for many of the season after again surgical procedure.

He turned seen as a participant who could be an issue, who would complain about his minutes and alternatives. He was booed in Orlando and booed in Los Angeles.

When the Lakers signed him in 2019, they gave him a non-guaranteed contract, which offered little safety for Howard if the reunion went poorly.

“He came in every day, pounded everybody, said hi to everybody, made sure everybody knew he was happy in the situation he was in,” mentioned JaVale McGee, who began forward of Howard with the Lakers throughout the 2019-20 season. “He constantly was the ultimate professional.”

McGee added, when requested if displaying that high quality appeared essential to Howard: “I definitely think it was important just because of hearsay and the way people talk about you in the league, especially G.M.s and coaches. It can really mess up your image.”

The Lakers received a championship in 2020 with Howard coming off the bench all through the playoffs.

“You look at him right now, he’s a sub,” mentioned Smith, Howard’s former normal supervisor. “He comes in, he adds some energy, plays some defense. But if you go back to in his prime when the world revolved around him and teams have to account for him before they account for anything else because he’s such a presence on the inside. Everyone had to adjust for that. The game has changed so much.”

The approach the Lakers’ use their facilities displays that change.

Howard began this season coming off the Lakers’ bench for DeAndre Jordan, who began at heart. But Jordan has solely performed in a single sport since Christmas. In that span, Howard has performed in solely 5 of eight video games and averaged 13 minutes per sport. Lately, LeBron James has been the Lakers’ beginning heart.

Perhaps time has dulled his previous accomplishments. Perhaps Howard’s difficult journey has affected his legacy.

“I have people ask me like, ‘Oh, do you think he’s a Hall of Famer?’” Van Gundy mentioned. “Do I think he’s a Hall of Famer? Are you kidding me?”

Van Gundy rattled off Howard’s All-N.B.A. and defensive awards.

“Go check and see how many people have done that,” he mentioned.