Former Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard now has a hall-of-fame ready resume after adding the 2020 NBA Championship. A title is merely icing on the cake.
It is what it is.
Howard is among NBA royalty as he sits today a champion with the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers. He can now say he has done what some historical centers have not in their illustrious careers, win on the biggest stage of the sport.
This extraordinary experience can be obtained if you have two or more great players combined with veteran role players who are willing to humble themselves and play a specific role for the greater good of the team’s success.
Dwight Howard played this role for the Lakers in obtaining the 2020 NBA Finals.
When Howard was a member of the Magic, he was universally known as the best center in basketball. And it was not even close. The next guy that was even close to planet D12 was the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, who defeated Howard in the 2009 NBA Finals.
Although Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum matched up head-to-head and Bynum won the Finals with the help of 2009 Finals MVP Kobe Bryant and the versatile roster that featured Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza, we knew Howard was a better center than Bynum. Howard averaged 15.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game in the five-game series, while Bynum struggled to stay on the court with 6.0 points per game in 18.2 minutes per game.
Howard essentially played Bynum off the floor. The Lakers used that to go smaller to better matchup with the Magic’s smaller lineups. It brought the small-ball revolution to the NBA much faster.
At the time, Howard was not good enough to lead the franchise to a title and win it because of his limitations as a center and as a leader. He needed someone who can carry the load on the perimeter in order to win championships. The Magic struggled to find that perfect pair for him — going from Hedo Turkoglu to Vince Carter to Jason Richardson before Howard finally asked for his trade out of Orlando.
There are hall-of-fame centers who never won a ring before. Howard did not want his name to be among those centers who haven’t hoisted up the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Before Dwight Howard, Patrick Ewing battled Michael Jordan for the Eastern Conference championship numerous times only to fall short of becoming a champion. Ewing has always been viewed as a more polished center than a guy like Howard but now Howard can say he has accomplished a goal that Ewing set to accomplish during his NBA tenure.
In the 1990 season, Ewing averaged 28.6 points per game, 10.9 rebounds per game and 2.2 assists per game. Sounds like Anthony Davis’ numbers right now, but Davis also has what Ewing wished he had — a title. Ewing was clearly the best center in the East for nearly a decade and never once experienced what Howard experienced as a player.
Patrick Ewing’s lone Finals series ended in seven games when his New York Knicks fell to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. Like Howard, it was a lack of perimeter help that cost him his ring. That Game 7 is remembered mostly for John Starks’ 0-for-11 3-point shooting performance.
There are plenty of stars who simply never had the teams crystalize around them to lead teams to a title. Many of them had to go elsewhere and accept lesser roles to reach the mountaintop.
Winning a title can never be sneezed at especially with the type of resume Howard has earned during his career.
This one title may be overlooked right now because of the timing that Howard received the championship. But make no mistake about it, this championship will cement his name inside of the Basketball Hall Of Fame.
Howard did not need this title to cement his Hall of Fame bona fides. He is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time All-Defensive Team Player, an eight-time All-Star and a five-time rebounding champion. He was already in. The title is just icing on the cake.
Dwight Howard now has the same amount of titles as Moses Malone, and now can be legitimately compared to the centers of years past with it as a part of his resume.
Howard may not be the all-time great center he envisioned when he led the Magic to the Finals at 23 years old. His career has taken some odd twists and turns through injury and through his struggles to find his fit in a league that no longer seemed to value his skill.
Howard was on his last legs in the league when the Lakers gave him a veterans’ minimum contract. He was not the star of the Lakers’ title, but he provided important defense both as a starter and a reserve.
He was, in other words, the perfect role player. He did what every player has to do to win a title — suppress their ego and play their role to win.