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Denton: Dwight Is A Global Role Model

By John Denton
Aug. 2, 2010


Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

ORLANDO – Half a world away in China, Dwight Howard tried intently to keep his focus on kids’ camps he was conducting instead of listening to the chatter about the Miami Heat’s improvement or the Orlando Magic’s rumored interest in star point guard Chris Paul.

Howard, you see, has tried to decompress from basketball this summer with a hectic travel schedule and by throwing himself into something he loves to do more than anything – teach the sport to kids around the world.

So after being peppered daily with questions in China about Miami’s additions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to go with Dwyane Wade, Howard wanted to talk about anything other than his plans for beating the Heat next season at the start of his camp in Orlando on Monday. Instead, he kept the focus on his offseason work with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon and his devotion to teaching basketball and life lessons to kids from Orlando to Atlanta to China.

``I kind of changed the landscape of this camp to let the kids know that it’s not all about basketball,’’ said Howard, from his basketball camp at UCF for more than 400 Central Florida kids. ``I want them to know that they have to have more than one plan of success. I’m not just a basketball player. There are other things that I do to make myself better for the future. So I want these kids to make sure that they have their priorities in line and make sure that basketball isn’t the first and only thing that they concentrate on. There’s so much more to life than basketball.’’

Howard has done a lot of stuff to take his mind off basketball after the Magic fell short in their bid to return to the NBA Finals and win a championship. Orlando swept Charlotte and Atlanta in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but fell behind 3-0 to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals and eventually lost in six games.

In the time since the end of the season, Howard traveled to Beijing, Cheng Du and Shenyang, China and Taipei, Taiwan conducting clinics, playing pickup basketball and judging dunk contests as a part of promotional tours for the NBA, Amway and Adidas. Thousands of people mobbed almost every event just to get a peek at the Magic’s 6-foot-11, 270-pound superstar, so much so that one event that 200 security personnel were needed.

``I try to not let it get to me and I just think about all of the positives that I can bring to all of the people around the world,’’ Howard said. ``Going overseas and seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids and how hard they work was nice. And they liked having a NBA player there to teach them drills.’’

Up next for Howard is a journey to Senegal as part of the Basketball Without Borders program. It is there that he hopes to meet up with Olajuwon once again. Howard drilled with Olajuwon for five days in June in Houston, working on footwork and low-post drills. Olajuwon, a Hall of Famer and two-time NBA champion, has served as somewhat of a mentor to Howard, giving him advice at times late last season and motivation for the future.

``Basically he was saying that I have to become a person who isn’t afraid to do anything on the floor,’’ Howard said. ``He said now there only certain parts of my game that I’m not afraid to show, but other parts I’m afraid to use. I have to do all of the things.’’

From Africa, Howard will travel to India where he hopes to spread the NBA message to the more than 1 million residents of that country. NBA Commissioner David Stern is attempting to make a marketing push into India, and Howard was chosen by the league to be the face of the NBA’s plans there.

From India, Howard will be back in China to film a basketball movie. And after a week at home, he’s planning to journey to Israel with some of the NBA’s retired players to speak about his religious faith and love for basketball.

Howard looked thin and in remarkable shape despite spending little time on the court this summer. He said he’s stayed in peak shape by ``doing push-ups and sit-ups and eating McDonalds,’’ but he admitted that some time outside of the basketball gym has been good for his psyche.

``I just started back working out. It’s getting about time to get serious about getting ready for next season,’’ he said. ``I think it was good for me to rest because it was the first time I’ve had a chance to get some good rest. Even though I was traveling, I was able to get some good rest and work with the kids.’’

Howard dodged questions on Monday about the Heat and Paul, but did address some of the changes that the Magic made in the offseason. Orlando signed Chris Duhon to back up Jameer Nelson at point guard and inked Quentin Richardson instead of retaining Matt Barnes, who ultimately left for the Los Angeles Lakers. The last move upset Howard somewhat because of his friendship with Barnes, but he’s moving on and looking to the future.

``I was focusing on the camps, so anything dealing with basketball I wasn’t really trying to hear. All of the trade rumors, I don’t really get into it,’’ he said. ``I was a little hurt with some of the people signing with other teams. I want the players returning to understand that if we’re going to win a championship that we all have to be on the same page. Every guy has to go man up and do their job so that we can win a championship.’’

John Denton writes for Orlandomagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com.