A villain isn't some magical type of character who exists solely in fantastical worlds. The real world has them too, and the NBA is no exception.
In fact, we basketball fans love nothing more than settling on a villain and then raining down the boos as vitriol courses through our blood from head to toe. And right now, Dwight Howard feels like he's at the center of the storm.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, he actually thinks he's a bigger villain than ever, saying, "Last year, I felt like I was the villain. Now, I feel like I'm an even bigger villain."
In this time of mental turmoil, D12 is turning to a surprising source for comfort. It's a man who has been in this exact position before but overcome the hatred to emerge as one of the NBA's most popular players and a champion with two rings on his fingers.
When you read the big man's quotes about the MVP, you can almost feel sympathetic for Howard:
I knew exactly how he felt. People putting you down, saying bad things about your character, who you are as a person. It doesn't sit well with you. When you go out on the court, you want to show them, 'Hey, this isn't who I am.'
Here's a guy who's a great basketball player. He did something that was for him, and he did it in front of the whole world. I realized then that our issues, our problems, our flaws are out there for the world to see. You can't run from it. We have to learn from our mistakes and move forward.
For a player who has had such trouble with the public-relations aspect of free agency each of the last two summers, Howard has a surprisingly good grip on the whims of public perception. He understands what he has to do in order to shift the narrative: win a title.
Victory is the ultimate panacea in professional sports.
Lose and your flaws are allowed to stand out. Win and they magically disappear, along with any sort of status as a villain. That last part may take time, but it happens.
As Fox Sports' Bill Reiter points out, the big man has got a tough road ahead of him:
His ability to handle criticism (from fans, media), ridicule (from other players), pointed examples of what he’s done wrong (from coaches and teammates) and difficulties under the glare that comes with the world watching (hello, 82-game regular season) will ultimately help determine how well he does in his chosen profession.
But Howard doesn't need to say the right things (though that would help). He doesn't need to be in funny commercials. He doesn't have to show that he's more decisive.
He just has to win.