Dwight Howard is now the most vilified man in professional basketball.
That is a title unwillingly foisted upon him after LeBron James finally shed it this past season.
During their relatively short careers, both superstars have faced immeasurable amounts of criticism and adversity, but only James has been able to overcome these obstacles.
LeBron, a three-time NBA MVP, took some of the most caustic flak ever doled out by the media and fans of the league for jumping ship from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010.
The hate continued through 2011, when LBJ failed to conquer the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, and it didn’t relent until James won a championship in dominant fashion against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.
James' situation is quite similar to Howard's. The former Magic superstar forced a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, after publicly waffling back and forth on whether or not to stay in Orlando for over a year.
Now that the saga is behind him, Howard is taking notes from James on how to once again become a beloved figure in the public eye.
According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times, Howard is not going to embrace the villain tag that has been placed on him by others—something that comes unnatural to Howard and something James attempted to little success in 2011.
"I have a chance to start over," Howard said. "This is a clean slate. I'm gonna do whatever I can on the court, off the court, to just show people that this is who I am. I haven't changed. I'm the same person. I love to have fun. I love to smile. I love to joke. But when I step on the court, I'm gonna have fun, I'm gonna joke — and I'm gonna dominate. That's how it's always been."
Instead of playing a season full of distractions and trying to adopt a persona that doesn’t fit, Howard will attempt to act like his normal self as he anchors a Lakers team that could be bound for the Finals.
Right before the 2011-12 season, LeBron admitted to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that playing up his villain moniker was a huge mistake and promised to embrace the game he loves with the same passion, but with the lighthearted attitude that brought him so much success during his career.
"I play the game fun, joyful, and I let my game do all of the talking and I got away from that. That's what I lost last year,” James told Nichols. “Going through my first seven years in the NBA I was always the "liked one" and to be on the other side—they call it the dark side or the villain or whatever they call it—it was definitely challenging for myself. It was a situation I had never been in before, and it took awhile...it took a long time to adjust to it."
Because King James ignored the “bad guy” persona that didn’t fit him, he found success both on and off the court last year. He’s once again one of the most popular and loved players in the NBA, plus he has a new championship to show for his efforts.
If Howard can help raise a banner in the Staples Center next spring, fans will forget all about the drama from the past year, forgive him as a villain and just think of him as a fun-loving big man that plays amazing defense and wins titles.