Dwight Howard's "Superman" persona is a case of mistaken identity.
While Dwight's superhuman muscles give him an aura of invincibility, his super—warm smile also gives his kryptonite away. The man—child who loves to laugh and refuses to grow up is Orlando's real life Peter Pan under that Superman disguise.
Consider the following quotes from those who personally interact with Dwight Howard on a regular basis:
Coach Stan Van Gundy: "That's the big thing for Dwight—to understand there's a time and a place. Even last year, he would still be foolin' around. We talked to him about it, and he's really changed."
GM Otis Smith: "I used to fight him about it, told him he smiled too much. I thought maybe it was nerves. Then I realized this is who Dwight is. I mean, he's just a different kid. Anyone wants a picture or an autograph, he stops. I think he's trying to be a normal person and not a megastar. I think it's impossible, but he's trying."
Magic Assistant Patrick Ewing: "Denver was beating the hell out of him one night, and one of the Nuggets said, 'Tell that guy to quit smiling.' He is his own person and own personality. In a lot of ways, he's like a kid."
Make no mistake, if I had to choose any basketball player in the NBA for my (hypothetical) children to emulate, it might just be Dwight Howard. He is kind, cares about his community, and is hilariously fun.
But as a teammate, if I saw my team's best player laughing and dancing while losing in the playoffs (as Dwight did against Boston last season), I would seriously consider smacking him upside the head.
With superstar salary comes great responsibility. Mull over this excerpt from Etan Thomas' open letter regarding former teammate Kevin Durant:
Nobody on the team can complain about being singled out if Kevin Durant has no problem with being criticized, so everyone falls in line. The team sees how hard he works on his shot, his offensive moves, cuts to the basket and moving without the ball even after dropping 40 on an opponent the previous night, so they work extra hard as well...Everything starts with [Durant], and when you have a leader like that, good things will happen. He leads by example, and at such a young age, it really was amazing to see that level of maturity.
True superstars have an uncanny ability to lift others as they lift themselves. It's what separates someone like Allen Iverson from someone like Kobe Bryant. While Iverson wages a war on practice, Kobe pulls Ron Artest from in-flight card games to help him improve.
It's also what separates Dwight Howard from someone like Kevin Durant. While Dwight's jokester personality creates a sense of levity and ease, his coworkers reveal that it often comes out at inopportune times. In contrast, Durant's will to win is so consistently strong that teammates have no choice but to fall in line.
We've been so enamored and entertained by Dwight Howard's Superman that we've failed to probe more about the Clark Kent underneath.
Part of this is denial.
No one wants to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that Dwight Howard may not have the requisite temperment to lead his team to a title. Dwight Howard may be a likeable person, but the NBA isn't a Mr. Congeniality contest for him to win. The sooner the Magic come to terms with this, the faster they can surround their best player with personalities he needs.
The Magic need veterans who won't be afraid to challenge Dwight in complementary ways. Vince Carter's relative indifference is the ultimate Peter Pan enabler, whereas Sam Cassell (in his day) would have been Dwight Howard's Captain Hook.
There is absolutely no shame in admitting Dwight Howard's weaknesses as a leader, he is a wonderful person the way he is. But recognizing this is a key first step to a basketball resolution.
As I recall, even Superman needed help from his friends at times to fight another day—and it's time for Dwight Howard to ask for it too.
Ken is a regular contributor for 3 Got Game's NBA-Analytiks www.nba-analytiks.com