Dwight Howard and adidas team up for the Orlando youth.
by Nada Taha
You could hear the infamous tunes of the ice cream truck in the distance. A few minutes later, it pulled up just beyond the black, chain-link fence. With the temperature hitting 85 degrees and a basketball court filled with kids, I’m sure the driver thought he’d be making a killing that day.
Despite the high temps, over 100 kids wiped sweat off their faces and ignored what could have refreshed them in the humid Orlando heat. Their attention was fully focused on 6-11, 265 pound Dwight Howard standing within arms reach in the middle of the basketball court at the Parramore Kidz Zone in Orlando.
He spent the afternoon helping the kids in attendance with their game faces for a commercial that adidas plans to air during the MTV Movie Awards later this summer.
Standing on the sidelines, I was amazed. This guy just came home from a west coast road trip and put up 31 points and 22 rebounds the night before in Milwaukee. There he was, playing a round of “Knock Out” with a group of kids who he and adidas just outfitted in new sneaks and gear. He joked around with them, gave them high fives and then stayed an extra hour after the event to sign autographs.
This, I thought, is what makes Dwight, Dwight.
But it’s not surprising to see him out in the community flashing his big, toothy smile. Just days after the adidas event, he was awarded the 2010-2011 Rich & Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award at the 21st Annual Orlando Magic Youth Foundation Black Tie & Tennies Gala.
It was his fifth time winning.
It’s just as normal to see Dwight volunteering in the community, as it is to see him posting up 20-20 games. He’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations around Orlando, took kids from the Boys and Girls Club on a shopping spree for the holidays, serves as an ambassador with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and spent his Valentine’s Day visiting non-profits and handing them checks totaling $70,000.
“It’s very important,” he said. “I think that sometimes people think that we as athletes forget about the community, forget about the people that support us that really can’t come to all the games. But we want to show them how much we really care and support them, for supporting us.”
In the heart of a distressed neighborhood, the Parramore Kidz Zone hopes to lower teen pregnancy rates, improve kids’ school performance and decrease juvenile crime. Around Orlando, it’s known as the ghetto. People lock their car doors and roll up their windows when driving through the town that takes up a 1.4-mile radius of downtown.
These kids don’t get this sort of attention. They screamed out for Dwight, reaching out their shirts, basketballs or whatever they could hold for him sign. They wanted to be around the four-time All-Star. They wanted to show him their game face. They wanted to feel important.
“I think these kinds of community events are good at pulling people together and its very difficult to tell kids how important it is to be safe, to believe in community, to move,” District 5 Commissioner Daisy Lynum said. “I am so happy and so proud of Dwight, the Magic and adidas.”
While Dwight helped these kids find their game face, I wondered if his teammates on the Magic knew where theirs were. They seemed lackadaisical for a team trying to hold a grip on a spot in the playoffs race. Right now, they’re a far cry from a contender.
While the Bulls, Heat and Celtics have been dominating the east, the Magic are struggling to keep their intensity level up and their lowly defense and double-digit turnovers have and will continue to plague them. Their 102-98 upset to the Raptors Sunday night proved this point perfectly. Not only were they outrebounded by a team that was missing their 7-foot center, Andrea Bargnani, they were out-hustled and frankly just plain out-played. But Dwight’s positivity still isn’t budging.
“I just need to continue to play hard every night and show my game face,” he said laughing. “There’s no need for us to be down and out because we haven’t had a great season to what people say, but it could be a lot worse. We could be a team that only wins 19 games a season and that’s not us. We just want to continue to play, continue to get better.
“There’s no need for us to hold our heads. We’re in a good position and we’re going to do a lot of great things in the Playoffs.”
Be sure to check back tomorrow, when we’ll be running a contest to give away two of Dwight’s adidas Super Beast kicks, signed by Superman himself. Details will be provided right here on SLAMonline and on adidas basketball’s Facebook page. You can also hit up adidas’ FB page to upload your own “game face” and be featured on TV as part of adidas’ new campaign.