All-Star Game MVP Would Be Big Honor for Howard

By John Denton
February 25, 2012

ORLANDO – History will be on Dwight Howard’s side Sunday night when he takes the Amway Center floor in pursuit of the Most Valuable Player award in the NBA All-Star Game.

Starting all the way back in the first All-Star Game in 1951, five of the first 12 MVPs of the midseason all-star game hailed from the hometown where the event was held. And more recently, another five MVPs have ties to the city where the last 12 all-star games have been played.

Of the previous 60 NBA All-Star Games played, 17 times the MVP either is from that city or plays for the NBA franchise serving as hosts of the NBA All-Star Game.

That clearly puts the white-hot glare and focus of the basketball world on Howard, who has already become somewhat of an unofficial host for the festivities with the All-Star Game being played in his home city of Orlando. Whether it’s hosting or attending parties (he will have been to four by tipoff on Sunday night), conducting meet-and-greet appearances with fans or giving out dining tips to other fellow all-stars, Howard has been more than happy to serve as an ambassador for the city where he’s lived the past eight years.

On Sunday night, Howard will get back to what he does best and that’s dominating basketball games on both ends of the floor. Whether it’s swatting shots, collecting rebounds or dunking with authority, Howard has firmly established himself as the game’s best big man.

But will that translate into enough opportunities in the free-flowing, lob-happy All-Star Game for Howard to win the MVP award? Historically, guards and wing players have dominated the All-Star Games, making it difficult for big men to get the ball in their hands. Howard, the league’s leading All-Star vote-getter for 1.6 votes, has previously played in five all-star games and has averaged 14.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. His finest performance was his first in 2007 when he came off the bench and scored 20 points and snatched 12 rebounds. He’s been a starter every year since, but he hasn’t gotten the ball enough to score 20 points. And last season in Los Angeles, Howard had just four field goal attempts and scored only five points in 21 minutes.

He said on Friday that he is more concerned with simply having a fun weekend than he is worrying about trying to snag his first MVP award in an all-star game. Howard often tries out new stuff in the game, including showcasing his dribbling skills and launching six 3-pointers in the six games.

``Most all-star games are for the guards and they do their thing,’’ Howard said. ``But for me the game is about entertaining the crowd as much as it is anything. I want to get a few dunks, shoot some threes and bring the ball up the court like a guard.’’

Considering all that Howard has been through this season with his trade request and a daily barrage of rumors about his future, many of his All-Star teammates and friends seem determined to make sure he gets the ball plenty in this game.

``It would be great if he could win it,’’ said LeBron James, a three-time MVP of the All-Star Game. ``The first thing we have to do is win the game because most of the MVPs come from the winning team. It would be great to get him off to a monster game and get him rolling early.’’

Kobe Bryant, a four-time All-Star MVP, knows what Howard is going through being the center of attention with the game being held in his hometown. Bryant similarly demanded a trade in 2004 and then had to endure dozens of questions about his future with the game being played in Los Angeles. Needless to say, the Lakers resisted trading Bryant and he’s won three more titles.

``A little awkward, isn’t it?’’ Bryant said of Howard’s situation. ``He just wants his team to be better. Players sometimes reach a level of frustration where they don’t feel the needle is being moved in the right direction, so I’m sure he’s a little frustrated. But I’m sure that they’ll still give him a warm welcome before the game.’’ Other stars are planning to make sure that the cheers last all night for Howard.

Said Chicago point guard Derrick Rose: ``I’m not sure that Dwight even needs our help because he’s good enough to win the MVP all by himself. He can dominate games on his own because he’s that good.’’

And then there was this from Philadelphia forward Andre Iguodala: ``We haven’t really talked about strategy yet, but I’m a pass-first guy when I have a solid big like Dwight. We played together in the rookie game (in 2005). If he gets open, I’ll be getting him the ball a lot.’’

Added Deron Williams, one of Howard’s best friends in the NBA: ``I’m sure he’s going to come out and try to get (the MVP) just like Kobe (Bryant) did in L.A. If it’s going to happen, it will here (in Orlando) for Dwight. I’m definitely going to throw the ball to the big fella.’’

But sometimes old rivalries die hard in the NBA All-Star Game. Legend has it that Detroit Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas once conspired to freeze out Michael Jordan and not give him the ball because of his hatred for the Chicago Bulls. Boston point guard Rajon Rondo, who has been a part of some heated rivalries, said he felt no obligation to try and help Howard win the MVP award.

``No, not all, we don’t feel like we have to do that,’’ Rondo said of feeding Howard the ball. ``I have a lot of rivals in this game. But it’s nto about me coming out here and trying to play buddy ball.’’

But clearly players can play a big role in which player wins the MVP award simply by choosing who and who not to pass the ball to.

Bryant won the MCVP in Los Angeles in 2011, while Shaquille O’Neal snagged the award in 2009 as a member of the Suns with the game in Phoenix. O’Neal also won the MVP in 2004 when he still played for the Lakers and the game was in L.A. Bryant’s first MVP came in 2002 in Philadelphia – his hometown much of his childhood. And in 2001, Allen Iverson won the MVP award in Washington, D.C., close to where he grew up in northern Virgina and in the city where he attended college at Georgetown University.

The last time the game was in Orlando, Magic Johnson won playing on the Magic’s homecourt. It was Johnson’s return after being diagnosed with the HIV virus.

Through the years, other players such as Karl Malone (1993 in Salt Lake City), Tom Chambers (1987 in Seattle), Jerry West (1972 in L.A.), Rick Barry (1967 in San Francisco), Adrian Scott (1966 in Cincinnati), Bob Pettit (1958 and ’62 in St. Louis), wilt Chamberlain (1960 in Philadelphia), Bob Cousy (1957 in Boston) and Ed McCauley (1951 in Boston).

For what it’s worth, Howard disputed the notion that there’s pressure on him to put on a show in the All-Star Game. Instead, he said it’s Orlando and the dazzling Amway Center that will be on display. And regardless of whether he wins the MVP award or not, Howard said he’s determined to enjoy playing once again on basketball’s biggest stage.

``I’m not the main event; the main event is Sunday’s game,’’ Howard joked. ``It’s feels so good playing the game here and really it’s a humbling experience for me. It’s great to have everybody in my city and show them what a great place Orlando is. The guys here all understand I have a tough decision to make (as far as trades or free agency) and they are supporting me through it all. I just want to make it a fun weekend for everybody involved.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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