Top 50: Dwight Howard, no. 5
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Myles Brown/@mdotbrown
The sun was at its peak on a glorious July afternoon in southern Florida. There wasn’t a cloud in sight and from here the tourists scurrying about the park were nothing more than ants on a picnic table. From here, Dwight Howard was literally on top of the world.
Alone in the Aéro30, suspended 400 feet above Disney World, he rested his chiseled frame on a guardrail and marveled at a breathtaking view of the Magic Kingdom. ‘The only thing that could make this day better is a parade’, he sighed. As they had since the end of his season last month, his thoughts eventually turned to those fateful free throws and whether he’d ever get an opportunity to redeem himself. But on this day he was determined to leave the past as just that.
Back on solid ground, Howard continued with his itinerary. He went back in time on the Primeval Whirl, gasping at the twists, turns and startlingly lifelike dinosaurs. He strolled the Maharajah Jungle Trek and learned the Komodo dragon is actually just a big lizard. He delightfully sung along with every verse of the Finding Nemo musical. Twice. He shook hands, posed for pictures and signed autographs. Dwight Howard was having too much fun.
And then it happened. A loud gurgling emitted from his stomach. His abdomen tightened with discomfort as his bowels violently shifted, demanding relief. Dwight Howard had too much spicy curry chicken last night.
The wailing child still propped on his shoulders served as a siren for those in Howard’s path as he left behind a shoe, $1.31 in change and a nauseating streak of flatulence on his way to the nearest restroom.
Bursting through the door and into an empty stall, for the next five minutes the prodigious pivot let loose a comically animated series of discharges. Exhaling with glee upon conclusion, it wasn’t until he noticed the oversized loafers in the adjacent stall that Dwight became aware of his company and was slightly embarrassed. But before the poopetrator could muster an apology he was interrupted by the stranger’s cell phone.
Howard smiled at the sound of the ring tone-a rendition of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’-and couldn’t help but to eavesdrop on the conversation.“Yes, dear…. I know, I’m sorry, I’ll be out soon….Oh, okay, well where do they want to go?……Alright, I’ll meet you there in a bit….Love you too.”
Timid, but impressed with the stranger’s tenderness and relieved that he didn’t interrupt it with further indigestion, Dwight tapped the wall between them as a sign of approval. The stranger tapped back. Jim Severson didn’t bother to wash his hands and grabbed his son’s arm as he rushed out of the restroom, quizzically peering over his shoulder, clueless as to what would transpire next.
Howard and his neighbor simultaneously emerged from their stalls, both startled by what they saw.
“Dwight?” the stranger exclaimed.
Though it was his favorite movie, David Robison decided not to join his family for the Voyage of the Little Mermaid because it was difficult enough to spend that much time watching an underage, half-naked white girl in the animated feature. But a live performance? No thanks.
This being their first meeting, the Hall of Famer and his successor exchanged pleasantries and didn’t realize that they’d been drifting around the park for hours before arriving at the Teacup rides. They looked at each other and both knew that there was no way they weren’t going to give it a whirl. The two giants compacted themselves into a teacup and as the ride began, their conversation took a more serious turn.
“You know Dwight, before my career began my favorite Bible story was always the Book of Job. I thought the unimaginable suffering he endured as a testament to his faith should be inspirational to us all. But after I retired and looked back on things, I changed my mind. Not about Job-he still inspires me-but it just wasn’t my favorite story anymore. Now my favorite story is the one I identify with most, David and Goliath.”
Howard’s bulky neck tilted with confusion and his brow furrowed as Robinson continued.
“The character of a Christian is tested daily in such a powerful and hedonistic lifestyle as the NBA’s. Money, ego, drugs, alcohol, women….”
Howard cleared his throat, pursed his lips and looked downward in solemn contemplation. The teacups kept right on twirling.
“…and it seems at times in order to appeal or relate to people you need to engage in such activity. Public opinion has equated Christianity with pantywaisted squaredom and there were questions of whether I could lead or secure endorsements because of my faith. But I earned credibility both on and off the court and that influence has been able to do wonderful things for several people. The NBA Cares and Community assist awards may be fodder for cynical columnists, but I’ve seen the lives I and others have touched and thankfully I was blessed with enough money to do so much more. Hopefully God will bless me with a long life so that I can achieve those goals. I see that you take pride in this too and you should be inspired by your wealth, youth and the good that you can do with your life, Dwight.”
This filled the young center with joy. The approval of such a stellar example as Robinson meant everything to him and he hung on his elder’s every word.
“But your career-your lifespan in this game-is so much shorter and you must seize every opportunity. I wanted to be seen as a leader, a positive role model, a great player and a champion. I always knew this was just a game, but I wanted to use my God given ability to its fullest extent and blaze a new trail for men of a higher purpose. To show that you could be an all-time great and a man of God. However, sometimes I feel like I’ve fallen short and in my darker moments I even feel like I failed. Like I should’ve left a bigger mark. I wanted to show just how much a man of God could achieve and it’s an awful feeling to think that I could’ve achieved more. You don’t want to feel that way Dwight.”
Howard frowned not only at the thought of such a feeling, but in compassion for Robinson, whom he felt was being too hard on himself. Surely no one would consider such an accomplished career as a failure. Still, Robinson continued.
“A man, even one such as myself, wants to leave an indelible mark on this sport and that requires defeating other men of similar purpose. Men who will stop at nothing to leave that mark, not even if it means succumbing to their own ego and desires at the cost of others and their own soul. It’s a dangerous path, look at Michael for Christ’s sake. He became his own idol.
But that’s the kicker, the same thing that drove Michael is the same thing that drives the rest of us. Establishing yourself, leaving a mark, fulfilling potential, blah, blah, blah. It all involves one thing, winning. In order to win in this league you have to be truly driven. Single minded, obsessed even. But you can’t let the game, the desire consume you Dwight. That is where we must avoid the sins of pride and false idolatry. But you know what else? No one else is willing to play by those rules. The history books won’t care about your character, only your accomplishments. And let me tell you something, Wilt was right. it’s tough to be David when you’re built like Goliath.”
The teacups began to whirl at an unnatural speed and a cold wind cut across Howard’s face. He struggled with the complexities of such advice and it was tough to concentrate over the children’s cries for help. He became nervous. Robinson, wingspan encompassing the entire cup, remained calm.
“People tell me that I accomplished so much and it’s should be a testament to my faith that I maintained my beliefs while receiving so many accolades. But everything that I’ve achieved is a big fucking joke.”
And with that, a roaring fire was lit behind Mr.Robinson’s pupils. His rippling muscles swelled, his bloodstream visibly rushed and he almost seemed to be growing. Dwight was past nervous. He was getting scared.
“Maybe I should’ve been more aggressive, maybe God would’ve understood. Everything I achieved has been discredited. What am I remembered for? An MVP I apparently didn’t deserve, getting smothered by Olajuwon, emasculated by Rodman and crushed by Shaq. I never received any real recognition until recently and even that was short lived. People don’t even respect my rings! They’re Duncan’s! It’s bullshit!”
Robinson’s voice boomed and now there was no questions about it. He was growing right before Dwight’s eyes. The seams of his shirt popped, the buttons flew, his feet tore through the soft leather and the teacup cracked as it struggled to contain him. Onlookers fled and as Robinson literally grew through the ceiling the cracks revealed a sky filled with ominous black clouds. But the Spurs’ eyes remained fixated on his target who was paralyzed by fear.
“But now people actually have the nerve to compare you to me? I am David Robinson and so I know for damn sure that you’re no David Fucking Robinson! I scored 71 points in a game and won a scoring title! I averaged four and a half blocks with two steals in my third season! I was a threat from inside and out, I beat guards up the floor and jumped over centers!
You want to be me? Ha! Look at you, I was an unquestionable centerpiece of my team, yours won’t even give you the ball no matter how high your FG% is! A body and skills like that, yet you only took 12 shots a game last year?! And that was a career high? Are you fucking kidding me! Your team was the first in NBA history to take more than a third of their shots from three, they don’t respect you, you’re a joke!”
Howard tried to remain strong, but he no longer feared the imposing figure before him as much as it’s words. He was scared they were the truth.
“Do you know how long and how hard I had to fight to get what I’ve got? But the road to a championship has been practically fucking steamrolled and paved for you! There’s no Barkley, no Malone, no Olajuwon, there’s no one! You’re the only center in the league and you still refuse to dominate! Who is in your way? A hobbled K.G.? I’d tear right through that motherfucker! What do have to fear, Shaq?! Not only is he a shell of himself but he’s the antithesis of everything we’ve tried to represent! Humility, hard work, respect, loyalty…yet they fawn at his supposed greatness while he openly mocks us! Are you going to stand for that?! Huh, Superman?!”
Robinson was now more than 400 feet tall and chaos erupted around him. His bellowing could be heard over the emergency sirens for miles. Buildings crumbled around him, the earth shook and a torrential rain drenched Howard as his lip quivered and he began to swallow his tongue.
“You’re no David Robinson! If you were you’d have a post game. You’d make your free throws. You’d seize the leadership role. You’re no David Robinson, because David Fucking Robinson wouldn’t be at Disney World after blowing the NBA Finals, would he?! Would he?!”
Surrounded by flames and deafening screams Howard felt as though his heart could exlode at any moment. His mentor showed no mercy.
Dumbfounded and petrified, Dwight David Howard did the only thing his body would allow.
And then he woke up.
Drenched in sweat and surrounded by a foul stench, Howard leapt out of bed and bolted for the toilet. Alone in his bathroom at 3:15 AM he sat, still unsure of how to balance the principles of his faith with those of his profession. He was pretty sure that Shaq wasn’t the antichrist though.
He was however, certain of three things. He did have too much spiced curry chicken earlier that evening. He needn’t worry about comparisons to David Robinson yet, since he was entering his sixth season and will still be younger than the Admiral was as a rookie.
And he wasn’t going to Disney World tomorrow. He was going to the gym.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.