It is pretty hard for a 6-foot-11 guy to remain pretty anonymous. But of all the NBA superstars, Dwight Howard has been the less vocal. Half of that is because he was not a free agent. Half of that is because he has been busy working on his individual game. And half of that (yes, three halves!) is because Howard is working on various other side projects.
Dwight Howard has been in India this week, helping the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders. He was scheduled to go to Africa before that for a Basketball Without Borders event. And Howard will travel to China to film a movie.
Through all this he has been working out with his personal trainer up to five hours a day and worked out with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon to expand his post repertoire.
It is difficult to criticize Howard for doing anything wrong. He is doing what a professional athlete in his position should be doing. He is working to improve his game. He is expanding his business opportunities. And he is reaching out through charitable organizations (he also held a basketball camp in his native Atlanta and in Orlando).
While Howard is boisterous and easy-going on the court, he seems a lot more quiet off it. Unlike some other superstars, he is not about drawing attention to himself — although I think Howard wants the attention for his actions and gets annoyed when he does not get the respect he deserves.
The criticism of Howard is long. His summer activies are no exception.
Last year many criticized Howard for spending too much time making movies and focusing on things outside of basketball. He was off filming Valentine’s Day and Just Wright and working to expand his off-field portfolio. He is one of the most marketed NBA players and it is something he wants from his fame as a basketball player.
There are lots of things pulling on Howard. And it sometimes does not seem that Howard has his full attention on basketball.
Using an argument Dwight Howard would use: you did not see Dwyane Wade get criticized for appearing in the same movie Howard did. LeBron James does not get criticized for going into hiding except for random appearances at sporting events during his offseason.
I guess it is OK to criticize Howard for working with Basketball Without Borders and pursuing opportunities he wants to go after.
But Howard is an NBA superstar and certain responsibilities do come with that title.
Unfair or not, LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been fulfilling that role. They made token appearances at the World Basketball Festival — a Nike event held in New York City this past weekend — and the U.S. basketball training camp. Howard obviously had other commitments and is on the adidas team, so appearing at a Nike event might not be kosher.
But unlike several of the other stars from the 2008 Olympic Team hoping to be playing in London in 2012, Howard has not — at least publicly — been present during Team USA’s training camp for the World Basketball Championship.
Now, he may be more present behind the scenes than we know. That seems to be Howard’s way. He works behind the scenes and is quiet about things to the national stage. But maybe that is not enough for him. Superstars are present and get the attention everywhere they go.
And there is still a loud voice who thinks Howard should have been on this year’s team to try and take the gold in Turkey. Bill Simmons tweeted this afternoon during the U.S. exhibition game against France: “Also: Howard was foolish for skipping this thing. Dwight, we’ve seen you play. Nobody needs this alpha dog more than you.”
So we reach the crux of the problem. Howard does not display the “alpha dog” mentality either on the court or to the public that commentators believe a champion must have. James apparently has it. Wade has it. Michael Jordan had it (still does). It is some strange concept that has stuck into people’s minds.
So what, Howard leads in a different way. That doesn’t mean he needed to be “The Man” on the national team. As a U.S. fan, it would be nice to see Howard (and some of the other stars) competing this summer. But the international game is not built for Howard. And he has gotten everything he can from U.S. National Team. What he has been doing this summer — working with Hakeem Olajuwon and gaining more confidence in the post — is exactly what he needs to do.
But Howard is a superstar. It would have been nice, if he still wants to be a part of the U.S. National Team program, to make an appearance at training camp. Even a token appearance would show he is somewhat committed to the team. If he has no interest, than maybe not.
What he should have definitely done was make an appearance at labor negotiations earlier this week in New York. James, Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul were all there to support the Union. If he wants the respect of his fellow players, that would have been a good place to be. As a superstar, he stands to lose far less than the middling players in the league. When the stars show solidarity with the union, it puts them in a stronger bargaining position.
If Howard see himself as a superstar, that means being a leader. He does not have to be the president of the Players’ Association. But he could have made that show of solidarity. He was noticeably absent when many of the big name players attended meetings during All-Star Weekend.
Ultimately though, the fruit of Howard’s work this summer will be judged by what he does this season. He is expected to make leaps on the offensive end and become more of a leader on the court. He is expected to do all the things he did last year on the defensive end.
And above all, he is expected to win a title. That might be the only thing that will get everyone off his back.