Dwight Howard is the kind of player we see only once an era. Except unlike Jordan or Lebron, the self-ascribed Superman has principally left his mark on the league as skunks do: by turning any area he occupies into a place no one else can stand to be in, and never admitting that it wasn’t because of anything other than self-defense. Throw in the fact that he has as much resilience as a tab on a Diet Coke, and you got a poor excuse for a Shaq 2.0 (though The Big Aristotle would argue he’s more like Shaq 0.2).
In a season that is far from being the astronomic success even your grandma expected, the only consolation Howard has are nineteen-million, five-hundred thirty-six thousand, three-hundred sixty smackeroos. What a pity.
But, the Internet Age, for all it’s fingertip knowledge has forgotten, three unforgettable things. First, Dwight David Howard is the only player in NBA history―one that has seen the likes of Sidney Moncrief, Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, Dennis Rodman, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon, and yes, the great “Big Ben” Wallace―to ever win the DPOY Award three times in a row. He might have even won it last year if it wasn’t for all the self-induced drama and nagging back problems.
Second, he mustered an NBA Finals trip out of an overachieving Orlando Magic and won more games than Lebron (1) in his first Finals appearance. He knocked out the Boston Celtics and Lebron’s Cavaliers, who were decimating teams up to that point, in what was always an underdog campaign.
Third, the Lakers were predestined to win this year’s championship once Howard joined the ranks. For a few years, he was considered the league’s second-best player. Like Lebron, the No.1 to his then-No.2, he has broken or tied records established by Wilt Chamberlain. This is a man who outrebounded the whole Toronto Raptors frontcourt during the first-round bout in the 2008 playoffs. He posted 16 points, 21 rebounds, two assists, and nine blocks (still an NBA record for most blocks in a Finals series) against a dynasty team led by Kobe.
You can question the man’s heart at times, but don’t question his otherworldly talents.
Any adult with a slim understanding of human nature can see that Dwight’s nagging injuries are a matador cape he’s held up for Kobe to charge through. As the “best Laker ever,” as told by a humble Magic Johnson and others, Kobe certainly carries a lot of clout with him. Which says nothing about the scowl he says serves as motivation for his teammates. For breakfast, Bryant must serve a daily threat of whoop asses.
Since day one, Dwight and Kobe have not seen eye to eye, and as writer Adam Wojnarowski put to ink, they’ve known for a while that they would be terrible teammates. The tension has been evident off and on the court, despite the two player’s best attempts to paint a different picture. And that’s got to be riding Howard’s nerves, considering he’s somewhat of a peacekeeper.
With an early season exit looming in the near future, things have only gotten worse.
While already healing from major back surgery, Dwight Howard was injured in a game against the Clippers last week, and aggravated it on last Sunday’s game against the Nuggets. He sat out three straight games to recover, and within that time frame Bryant found the time to call out his toughness to Boston sportswriter Jackie MacMullan. Bean said:
“We don’t have time for [Howard’s shoulder] to heal…We need some urgency. [Dwight] has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is. It’s win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That’s just how we [the Lakers] do it. And that’s foreign to him.”
To which Dwight responded, “Kobe’s not a doctor.”
It’s easy to call out D12’s tenacity when he’s prided himself on being a clown act over the years, and on making it his personal quest to get Steve Van Gundy axed, but dude seems legitimately hurt and is clearly eyeing his health as he sees the trade deadline and/or summer free agency fast approaching. Dwight might be a coach killer, but has never called out teammates individually, with Kobe’s zest for condescension, to the media. As far as I know, he also hasn’t had a HOF teammate run for Miami (before it was cool), or Phil Jackson question his coachability.”
There’s also the fact that if Dwight was faking injury, Metta World Peace doesn’t seem like the type of player to not say what’s on his mind, and he’s defended the ailing center, saying, “I would say he’s a soldier and I’m not going to question his injury. He’s hurt to me.”
Keep in mind that “shouldergate” is transpiring within a season when blame has been deflected more times than Kurt Thomas in the last six years of his career. First it was pre-season sputters, then Mike Brown, followed by D’Antoni’s overemployment, Nash’s absence, sprinkled with constant prodding at Gasol’s masculinity (is it a Spaniard thing?), and now Howard’s lack of grit. If Bynum was still around, would his haircut be holding a press conference admitting fault for the Laker’s faulty season?
Dwight and Kobe have failed to get on the same page this season, but it’s a page written by Kobe Bryant, in it, Dwight “[defends]” and “[rebounds].” That’s it, to Kobe there’s “[nothing] else on the page” for Dwight.
Which might mean that on the history book’s page for Kobe, it will say, “never caught MJ.”