Dwight Howard’s career can be viewed in several different ways. To many, he is a spoiled, onetime superstar, an immensely talented player that drove several teams and coaches into the ground on his quest for stardom and attention. To others, he is an almost tragic figure, a player whose talent outgrew his maturity, and who never quite found the right destination for his skill set and personality.
One thing is certain though: a lot of people strongly dislike like Dwight Howard, and Dwight Howard is painfully aware of this. At some level, his new contract with the Hawks is an attempt to change that narrative, and to show that he can be a positive locker room presence and a valuable team player. In essence, Howard is doing everything he can to rehabilitate his image with the Atlanta Hawks, and his new three-year deal will most likely determine how this attempt plays out.
Dwight Howard’s career has followed a meteoric arc, as he quickly took his first team to the NBA Finals, but then destroyed several years’ worth of goodwill in Orlando by the way he left the Magic. This story has been picked over hundreds of times, and the same can be said for his turbulent exits from Los Angeles and Houston as well. Each situation was unique, but Howard left all three of these teams on bad terms, raising legitimate questions about his personality and locker room presence.
The story of Dwight Howard’s adventures in these three cities provides the framework for multiple ways that fans see him. For those who dislike Howard, there is ample reason to question his commitment to teamwork after three ugly exits. At the same time though, it is also possible to view him as a talented player who was thrust into the spotlight too soon in Orlando, and who struggled to mesh with difficult personalities in Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
Regardless of which of these explanations is more accurate though, Dwight Howard is doing everything he can to change perceptions about him, and the Atlanta Hawks play a huge role in this attempt at rehabilitation. Howard has constantly mentioned the importance of coming home, has played up the importance of a “fresh start,” and appeared to be emotionally moved during his introductory press conference.
Howard has also changed his jersey number to 8 (a biblical reference to rebirth), and filled his Twitter feed (in between shooting videos) with inspirational messages. The Atlanta Hawks and Mike Budenholzer have mentioned Howard’s importance several times since his signing, but nobody publicly appears more excited about Dwight Howard in Atlanta than Dwight Howard himself.
It’s easy to see why Howard would try to remake his image. Nobody wants to be disliked by large amounts of people, and sports media personalities have often been extremely brutal in their criticisms of him. Being constantly negated and attacked on a stage as big as the NBA can be crippling, and it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for anyone in this situation.
Will Howard be able to rehabilitate his image and change the way much of the league views him? Even with his recent efforts, only time will tell. Howard’s recent positive persona is certainly likable, but he still has several years of bad perceptions to play off. There’s a big difference between being likable during a sleepy offseason and holding up this perception over an 82-game grind. Add two more seasons after this one, and Howard has plenty of opportunity to either succeed or fail in his attempts.
All predictions aside, though, it’s clear that Dwight Howard is genuinely trying to shake off this negative perception of his character. Regardless of how Atlanta fans feel about him now, he is part of this team’s future for the next three years. Any gains he makes in improving his image can only be good for the Hawks.