Q+A: Dwight Howard
The star big man talks about getting kids motivated, free agency and his NBA role models.
by Daniel Friedman / @DFried615
On July 1, Dwight Howard will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and he’ll have to make a decision that will ultimately dictate his NBA legacy. During times like these, it’s good to have a little help from your friends, family and trustworthy confidants.
Whether it was the free-agency frenzy in Orlando or the up-and-down year with the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard stressed the importance of having advisers help him through the tough times.
This past season, Howard was still trying to get back into All-Star form after undergoing season-ending back surgery in April 2012. Before his operation, the 6-11 big man was averaging 20.6 points and a League-best 14.5 rebounds per game while being touted as the best center in the game.
This year, his numbers took a slight dip during the regular season, and then they dropped again in the Playoffs to 17.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. It was painfully obvious to Lakers fans that Howard wasn’t quite back to being 100 percent, health-wise.
And then there was the drama.
Going back and forth in the media with fellow running mate, Kobe Bryant, about the level of urgency in the locker room. Constant questions about Howard’s commitment, intensity and character. But the bigger question looming over Los Angeles throughout the season was first-year head coach Mike D’Antoni’s utilization, or under-utilization, of the team’s frontcourt.
By the end of the season, not many people in Lakerland were happy. A day after the Spurs swept the Lakers in their first-round series, Dwight took to Twitter. “Im still upset about the way this season ended,” wrote Howard. “Im mad I lost my cool. Im sorry for letting my team and our fans down when they needed me the most.”
At this point, almost a month has passed since the Lakers’ season came to a close. Howard’s back is feeling better, and now he’s focused on how he can contribute to the community.
In a recent interview with SLAMonline, Howard talked about the ACUVUE 1-Day Mentoring Program that he’s involved in, how certain role models helped him cope with life in the NBA and how he plans to decide where he’ll play out the most important part of his basketball career.
SLAM: So how did you get involved with ACUVUE and their 1-Day Mentoring Program? And what’s the program all about?
Dwight Howard: Since I’ve been in the NBA, I’ve always wanted to mentor kids and I’ve done that on a smaller scale in Orlando and Atlanta. ACUVUE came to me and asked me if I wanted to be a part of this and I was very excited and happy that they asked, and I told them yes right away.
We’re just going to really help our younger generation. Give them motivation on how to train or get involved in whatever it is that they want to do in life. We have people from all walks of life, and we have an opportunity to share our story and what we did to get where we’re at today.
You gotta have vision. If you don’t have great vision, you can’t compete.
SLAM: Did you have anyone who severed as a role model growing up?
DH: No, I didn’t. I was always self-motivated. I always wanted to be great and I did everything in my power to get there. But I didn’t have anybody that I could really just sit and talk to, or who could push me.
SLAM: Did you kind of have to be your own support system growing up?
DH: I had my parents. But for the most part I was always playing basketball, always working out, you know, it was just me. I knew that it was great to have people around, but if I wanted to make it in the NBA and be successful, I really had to push myself.
SLAM: How important is it for kids to have role models in their lives?
DH: I think it’s very important for kids to have role models. You need somebody to look up to and you need somebody to motivate you to want to be the best. And having an opportunity to sit and talk with somebody in the top of their profession, it makes you want to get there even more.
SLAM: What kind of advice would you give younger athletes looking to get better at their sport? And how do you hope to inspire kids today?
DH: Well, I just want kids to hear what I went through, my story to get here. It wasn’t easy. Getting to the NBA, a lot of people think you just have to be tall. There are a lot of tall people and a lot of people play basketball in the world and to be a part of the National Basketball Association, there are only 400 guys out of the millions that play, it’s a blessing and it’s a lot of hard work.
I just want to share that story and try to motivate them, not just to play basketball, but to motivate them to do whatever they want in life, and help them understand there’s a price you have to pay to get to the top.
SLAM: How have your experiences growing up contributed to the leadership you exhibit on the basketball court?
DH: It’s been great because I understand what it takes to get to the top. You really have to push yourself. You can’t think about failure. It has to be, ‘I know I’m gonna make it, I know I’m gonna get this.’ No matter how many times I try, mess up or miss shot, I’m gonna keep going. That’s helped me out a lot.
SLAM: Are there particular veteran players in the NBA who serve as mentors to the younger guys coming into the League?
DH: Well you have a lot of [veterans] who aren’t really the big name guys. They’re people that you can really just sit and talk to. And they’re willing to tell you and share with you anything you want to know about life in the NBA, how to handle certain situations.
They’re guys who played for years, and they’ve been through every situation that young players are gonna go through, or have gone through. So it’s always good to be able to talk to those guys.
SLAM: Have there been any veterans in particular that have helped you out during your time in the NBA?
DH: Tony Battie. He’s always been one of the guys who have really helped me out since I entered the League. We still talk to this day and I do really appreciate it.
SLAM: It was an up-and-down season for the Lakers this year—did you look to Battie for advice during times like these?
DH: Oh yeah. We’ve had plenty of talks this year and he’s been great. You know, a lot of the tough times that I’ve had have reminded me of some of the things I went through growing up trying to get to the NBA.
It’s just pushed me to keep going, coming off major surgery and playing. A lot of the things I went through growing up really helped me. Then having a guy like Tony to talk me through it was great.
SLAM: You’ve got a big decision coming up with free agency—how important is it to have someone like Battie when making choices like that?
DH: It’s very important that you have people that can give you their advice and tell you what they think about a certain situation. But at the end of the day, that decision totally comes down to me, and whenever you make decisions in life you have people advise you, but you have to go with what’s best for you and what makes yourself happy. You can’t really worry about what anybody else thinks about it. You just have to really focus on what’s important.