Dwight Howard’s Resurrection
It's 10 pm after a Saturday night game against the visiting Charlotte Hornets and Dwight Howard is back out of the locker room, running the length of the floor doing post-game drills. The Sixers had defeated the lowly Hornets by 17 points, cruising to a second straight victory. The reputation of NBA players is such that one might think, after a win like this guys would go out and party.
And yet, Here is NBA legend, Dwight Howard, 17-year veteran, 8-time all-star, on the floor, running through shooting drills with other Sixers reserves a decade or younger than himself. An aberration? Frustration from lack of playing time? Nope, For Howard, it was simply where he wanted to be.
"Dwight is a workaholic," Said teammate Danny Green after Saturday's game. Green spoke about last year with the Lakers, that coaches had to pull him off the floor to make sure his body got enough rest.
And again, Monday night, after a 13 rebound night where he played well enough to allow starter Joel Embiid to rest the final 16 minutes of a 118-101 win.
This belies the reputation of Howard as a goofball at times in his career. There were questions about how seriously Howard took the game of basketball as he turned into a sensation famous for costumes and photoshoots and a 1000 watt smile.
Just before the age of the Golden State Warriors, and the rise of small ball, Howard was a dominant force down low at a historic level. At age 25, Howard posted stats of 23 points and 14 rebounds per game for Orlando and carried the team to the NBA Finals. Howard is an 8-time all-star, three-time defensive player of the year.
We looked at Dwight in a lot of ways in his career, he was a dominant player when he first came in and then he kind of got lost for a while. and last year was the resurrection of Dwight Howard - Doc Rivers
And yet. again on Monday night, it's 10 pm after an easy win early in the regular season, and Howard is running the floor and putting up shots with an assistant coach.
"He's a champion," Said Tyrese Maxey after Monday night's win. "He definitely knows what he's talking about," said the rookie about the vet. Maxey and Howard playfully warmed up prior to Saturday night's game. More interesting than the playing 1 on 1, was watching Maxey follow Howard around, including introducing himself to the night's officials. "He's been around this league for a long time.17 years just seems unheard of, and he still in the best shape of his life. So he's a Vet that you want to listen to." Continued Maxey "He's done it for a long time he knows how to be professional, and you know he's really helped me and I think all of us rookies as well, and the whole team."
There is a tone that seems to be set, relaxed, confident but committed, Howard, a 17-year veteran who is just months removed from an NBA championship, showing the path to a player who was in diapers when his NBA journey began.
And it's not just the young players. His ability to defend and rebound makes him the best backup Joel Embiid has had in his career. Additionally, Howard is a capable running mate for Ben Simmons, another player that has joined Dwight in post-game shooting drills.
"He knows what winning looks like" Said Rivers on Christmas Eve about Howard "That he can give some of that knowledge to Ben and to Joel is invaluable"
Howard has been a reliably excellent quote, displaying humility and focus when meeting with the media. In his introductory press conference, Howard said he "just had to get back in the gym and be back on the court. And, you know, try to get another championship" It seemed an obvious line for a new player at that point, who just days prior had assumed he would return to the Lakers. "The main thing is just being there for the young fellas, and try to help them out right now"
Looking back on those early availabilities you can see it through a different lens. When speaking about his role as Joel Embiid's backup, Howard said. " I'm just looking forward to really embracing him and helping him to be the best big man in this era".
The ways Howard is doing that are subtle. Keeping the team loose, confident, and relaxed is a key part of surrounding Embiid with reliable shooting on the floor around him. Howard seems to lower the temperature of the room whenever he is around.
Speaking again on Embiid, Howard said "he has an amazing shot at being one of the greatest, at his position to ever play the game." He continued on "And I just want to be somebody that can help in any area on and off the court. I really believe in him and his talent, his skill level, and the things that he can accomplish. And I would love to help him get to the top."
I asked Howard in that introductory press conference in early December what advice he would give himself at age 26, I will let his reply close this story.
The best advice is really just not taking any moment for granted and really embracing everyone on the team. Really embracing a winning culture. You know I think I've always wanted to win but just embracing the culture of winning. Where nothing matters except the goal of winning the championship, just embracing it is something that I really would have just told my younger self.
The NBA career. It goes by fast, so enjoy every little moment, every day. Everything counts. And this year, I really got a chance to see that every little moment matters.
And I don't take anything for granted. I think with the young guys that we have. I can't take any moment for granted. You never know what could happen in your NBA career. And every moment that you have to learn to be successful. And be around a great team in a great atmosphere. You have to stay in that moment. And hopefully this year, those experiences that I've had, and also Danny, Doc and some of the older vets know we can share that wisdom and knowledge to the younger guys