Catching Up with Dwight Howard

Dwight at Lovell Elementary
Dwight in Asia for NBA Madness
He stands at six-foot, 11 inches tall and is still growing. He was the number one overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. He led the 2004-2005 Orlando Magic in both offensive and defensive rebounds and blocks per game, and as I conduct this interview, he holds his talking “Napoleon Dynamite” pen to my ear.

Although his name isn’t yet as prestigious as Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant or even LeBron James, Dwight Howard, a southern boy who graduated from a tiny Christian high school in Atlanta, is arguably one of the premium players in the NBA today.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with “Napoleon Dynamite,” however, for those of you who associate the phrases “gosh” and “sweet” with the quirky and appealing movie about an odd and eccentric teenager, you are not alone.

Question number one came from an outside source, a fan who participated in the Magic’s “Ask a Player” online forum: “Dwight, how many push-ups can you do non-stop?” Howard replied, “What do you think… gosh!” His Napoleon Dynamite-like response garnered laughter from everyone around him.

With all the open and very public criticism toward athletes in society today, it is difficult not to pass initial judgment on who they are and what they stand for. Perceptions and opinions of these men exist for a reason, but Howard is one person to make skeptics think again.

His favorite movie – “Finding Nemo;” his hobbies – magic tricks, swimming and training dogs; his favorite food – pizza; his favorite players – the retired Michael Jordan and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett.

These are the answers from an NBA star, a national icon, a hero to people worldwide, a guy who we often forget is beginning his second season in the NBA, before he celebrates his 20th birthday.

“I don’t think my image was ruined after the Indiana incident, but we have been given a little bit of a bad reputation,” Howard said. “People look at us as superheroes, so whatever we do is magnified 100 times more than a regular person….we just gotta be the role models that an NBA player is supposed to be.”

Only 19 years old yet wise beyond his years.

With the conclusion of the 04-05 season came new opportunities for the starting forward. Aside from the obvious resting and working on his game, Howard spent his first off-season traveling the world and making community appearances.

“I got to travel with another NBA player (L.A. Lakers forward Luke Walton) to Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan all for NBA Madness,” Howard said. “We held clinics, talked with the kids and there was a smaller version of the NBA Jam Session that they had during All-Star Weekend (2005)... Then we had a little all-star game at the end of the week.”

“The Philippines was my favorite place because the people were just so nice over there and they really appreciate basketball,” he added. “They are probably the biggest fans of the NBA that you will see in another country.”

Also during the off-season, Howard was presented the “Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award;” an award given to Pat Garrity last year and Grant Hill in 2001.

Howard’s $50,000 award, to be donated to a charity of choice, was split up between three schools; $25,000 to his former school, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, $15,000 to Lovell Elementary and $10,000 to Memorial Middle School. Howard attended each school for the check presentation.

“It was fun! I wish I could go to every school in Orlando and donate some money and spend time with the kids. I really enjoyed doing that; it was very fun and the kids loved it.”

If your expectations of Dwight Howard aren’t as high as they should be, his school appearances should raise the bar. The Magic community relations employees who accompanied Howard at the school brought “goody bags” for the students. Howard spent well over an hour in one classroom at Lovell Elementary, not merely handing out the bags, but asking each student a quiz question essentially in order to “win” the bag.

My impression? Dwight Howard seems to actually enjoy community appearances. His opinion:

“I have fun, and I am definitely going to keep it up,” he said. “I have been doing it my whole life. My high school included kids from preschool all the way up to 12th grade, so I was used to being around the kids and I enjoy playing with the kids. Hopefully I will get some other opportunities.”

According to an article from Sportsillustrated.com, Dwight Howard is the team’s centerpiece, and he’ll be asked to develop quickly and dominate enough to lead the Magic back into the playoffs.

Although Howard wants to live up to people’s expectations, he doesn’t feel too much pressure as the upcoming season approaches.

“It’s not really heavy on my shoulders, but everyday when I come in to the gym, I know that my team is looking for me to step it up this year,” he said. “Also, the City of Orlando and the organization is looking for me to do that. So whatever I do on the court, I do it a little harder because I know that I got a lot of people looking at me.”

Brian Hill is set to take over as head coach for the Magic this season. Howard is happy about not only Hill, but about the entire coaching staff.

“I have had good experiences with Brian Hill so far,” Howard said. “I really like him and I really like all the coaches; I think the management made a good decision in bringing them back this year. I’m happy with them all.”

Training camp begins in October and shortly after that follows pre-season games. With the additions of Coach Hill, rookie Travis Diener and former Miami Heat guard Keyon Dooling, the Magic is in prime position to succeed this season.

“I think that the Magic is going to do very well this season, but the only way we are going to do well is if we have the support of the fans and our town,” said Howard. “We have that, and we should do pretty well this year.”

Although basketball may be a major factor in his life, off the court Howard keeps his faith at the top of his priority list.

“It’s tough when you are always on the go, you know, you forget about the little things like praying,” he said. “ I just try not to get sidetracked about what I do, and I don’t let basketball be my main focal point. I just try to put everything aside and take time to pray and read and do stuff like that.”

Even though professional sports can at times attract negative publicity, there are genuinely good guys who get lost in translation. Dwight Howard is one superhero that kids should never hesitate to call their role model.

By the way, if you’re itching to know how many pushups he can do non-stop, still imitating Napoleon Dynamite he said, “um…probably like sixty or something.”

Kristen Schowe is an intern in the Magic's Communications department.