Working his way to the top


Working his way to the top

Dwight Howard is certainly not the tallest centre to have played in the NBA, nor is he the most intimidating character on court. He has a problem scoring from the free throw line and also has had some trouble with his fade away jumper from the perimeter.

Howard is not the best in business but it’s not his skills on the wooden floor that make him special –– they certainly make him a good entertainer, but it’s his humility, his ability to connect with people and his team-mates and his lovable nonchalance that makes him one of NBA’s youngest and coolest ambassadors.

He turned into a right hand player after breaking his left hand in the eighth grade when attempting to dunk because of which, despite all efforts to conceal, he has an inclination to move his body awkwardly and also has the tendency to lose his temperament when required most. He might have a lot of work to do but with age on his side -- he’s only 24-years-old -- sky is the limit for The Superman.

“My dad was very strict. He made sure everything was in order and my brother and I had nothing to worry about other the game. I have lost seven of my brothers and sisters and I was called ‘The Miracle Child’ since the day I was born.

“You know it’s really hard growing up that way but my parents kept me grounded and going. All that makes me celebrate life more. I was never forced into playing basketball, I just fell in love with it. My brother and me used to shoot a sock with a hanger for a rim and that’s how it all started. Then, when I was old enough, dad started sending me to camps which helped me a lot.”

The four-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA First Team player’s earliest hero was Chicago Bulls’ legendary guard Michael Jordan but with time he came to appreciate Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson. It was, however, Boston Celtics’ centre Kevin Garnett that impacted his life the most. Inspired by ‘Da Kid’, Howard jumped straight from school to the 2005 NBA draft, and as prophesied by Howard himself when he was nine-years-old, he was Magics’ first pick.

“I got picked first and everything I had done all my life to that point was just so worth it. My school was small and only 16 people graduated from when I studied. There was no respect for a guy who came right out of school, so I had to earn it. I woke up at four in the morning and ran, then hit the gym, then school, then practice for four straight years. It just toughens you up for anything.”

In big league

A couple of seasons at the Amway Center and Howard was already the star, the best thing to have happened since Tracy McGrady, Orlando’s very own miracle. However, Howard, as good as he is, was destined to play for more than just a club. Even if the club was a part of the biggest basketball league in the world.

The Dream Team –– Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton –– had set an almost unachievable standard by winning gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics  beating every team by an average of 44 points. But with Howard, averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Carlos Boozer, Chris Paul, Chris Bosh, Tayshaun Prince, Kobe Bryant, Michael Redd, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Deron Williams playing at their peak, the next best thing to the Dream Team was formed and they bagged gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a 5-0 record.

“It’s nothing like playing for your club. It’s a little easier given everyone has their specialisation, their role to play and we stick to it. At the club I had to go out and do a whole lot but in Team America I just had to stick to playing defence. The challenge was just very different but I enjoyed it. We did well I think. I’m just trying to be real modest. We won the gold medal at the Olympics for crying out loud. We were incredible.”

Howard is adding a whole new dimension to the sport but his ability to grow and sustain his dominance remains to be seen. For the moment though, the Superman is making it all seem like one big Kryptonian party.

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