Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dwight Howard's fall from grace

 "That's me in the corner. That's me in the spotlight losing my religion, trying to keep up with you. And I don't know if I can do it. "

Lyric from: Losing My Religion from the album Out of Time 
Written By: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe
Performed By: R.E.M.

Photo of Dwight Howard courtesy of CBSSports.com

In the hours leading up to the spectacular drubbing that the Houston Rockets suffered at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies this week, news broke of an investigation into child abuse claims alleging that Dwight Howard had struck his 6-year old son with a belt buckle and a Florida doctor's subsequent finding for physical abuse.

During a quick search of the internet for more information on the story, I came across this 10-year old article at ESPN.com titled "On a mission from God". Published ahead of the 2004 NBA Draft, it details the religious mission Howard intended to undertake as an NBA player with evangelistic aspirations. Of his impending time in the Association young Howard said he hoped to “raise the name of God within the league and throughout the world”. 

Long story short, before we would come to know what it meant to be the Tim Tebow of the NBA (Christianity-wise not talent-wise), Howard was planning to be the Tim Tebow of the NBA.

And then that didn’t happen. 

While Tebow, now out of the NFL, is still looking forward to his first real kiss someday, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year who once boasted proudly about being a virgin as a representation of his dedication to his faith is rumored to have fathered multiple children, all by different women. Which makes that plus the child abuse plus the excuse about the child abuse-that he didn’t know it was wrong because that was how he was raised-three things he now has in common with Adrian Peterson.

No matter how haughty you may or may not want to get in evaluating how Christianity gels with the whole children before marriage thing or on the concept of sparing the rod and spoiling the child, it is a matter of fact that since Howard has been in the league we have seen and heard very little of his Christian message from his hardwood pulpit. 

Here’s a guy that sports marketers once worried may get the David Robinson treatment with sponsors wary of connecting with a player with so much talent who was so outspoken about his religious affiliation. Ten years later it turns out they never had to worry about reconciling the two.

If we were looking for an early sign of Howard’s temperament and his potential as a waffler, that shift in intent was likely our first clue. 

And after eight mostly amazing seasons in Orlando which included a trip to the NBA Finals but ended with back surgery, we got our first, hard evidence of that wishy-washiness. Howard handled his trade from Orlando miserably complete with the infamous  press conference of the awkward and famous involving then Magic head coach, Stan Van Gundy.

Since then it’s been pretty much all downhill. 

Though we’re still waiting to see the version of Howard the basketball player whose play enraptured us in Orlando, Howard the oft-maligned man who plays basketball is at present a far more curious if not entertaining phenomenon to observe.

Before the egg of a meeting with the Grizzlies, the Rockets nearly went down to the wire in a win over the Durant and Westbrook-less Thunder. Durant may not have played in the game but, he got into the action and into Howard’s face. Without standing between the two I can’t say for sure what Durant might have said to him but from all video and lip reading indications, it looked like he used words that assessed Howard as a man of fragile disposition.

Earlier in the season a meeting with the Lakers set the stage for a dust up with Kobe Bryant in which Bryant echoed Durant’s sentiment, calling Howard soft, among other things.

Once esteemed by his peers as a force, if these two incidents are signs of the changing times, the widely held view of the All-Star center seems to be the opposite of that now.

It’s hard to know exactly how we got here, but even Gary Payton has weighed in on the matter saying plainly that Howard is “fake-tough”.

Quoted 10 years ago as having said that he thinks he “could make as much money as LeBron but, it will be up to God for that to happen,” he knows from LeBron’s example what a ring can do for a damaged reputation. 

If things are to turn around for the 6’ 11” star only genuine toughness will do. It’s what the Rockets will need to make good on Dwight’s plans to bring another NBA Championship to Houston.

Unlike his forgotten evangelism, however, this time his intentions will have to match actions.

Or else, well, you know what they say about the road to hell.