Chamberlain was 37 years old when he did it. Kareem was 38 his first time, did it again at 43, then did it better than perhaps any athlete in history when he was 63. Russell didn’t do it until he was 57, but has done it twice more since. Shaq did it twice to bookend his career – first at 22, again at 39 – and did it another time at the height of his powers, when he was 29 and on top of the world.
And now it’s time for Dwight Howard, 26 years old, to join the club. It’s time for Dwight to write his autobiography.
Too young? Hardly. The Orlando Magic center – the best player of his generation at his position and a future Hall of Fame inductee – lived the life of a child star before transitioning to that of a grown-up celebrity. For at least six months out of each year, since he was first turned loose on the world as a bashful 18-year-old, he’s entertained thousands a night while earning millions, living in one of America’s top tourist destinations when he isn’t traveling the world. He’s been fawned over by men in power suits and women in freak-em dresses. There’s no doubt Howard has some spicy stories to tell.
And now that he’s been chewed up in the social media/professional journalism soul grinder for the past several months – for the apparent crime of trying to conduct his own business at his own pace – then spit out as soon as he outlived his tabloid usefulness, Howard has experienced the conflict necessary for a truly compelling memoir.
He just needs a title. For that, Howard need look no farther than the 1993 indie film classic Fear of a Black Hat (think Spinal Tap for rap), when N.W.H. front man Ice Cold discusses his auto-bio, FYM by Ice:
“Yeah, F___ Y’all Muthaf____s … It was written from a strong mindset. You know how when people mess with you and put you through a lot of s___? You know, and you feel bad. And then they put you through some more s___? And it’s like, you get tired of it. And you feel just like, FYM: F___ Y’all Muthaf____s!”
After what he’s been through, FYM should be Dwight Howard’s credo. It won’t be, because Dwight is too nice for that, but I wouldn’t blame him for becoming colder. Certainly there are a lot of people who have proven they have it coming.
The quick version of the story is this: Howard had an early-termination option in his contract with the Magic that he could have exercised in the 2012 offseason. By using it, he could have become a free agent this summer and shifted the power balance of the NBA at his whim. By not using it, he could commit to Orlando through 2013 and keep them in the championship conversation. Or he could sign another contract extension and stay in Orlando long-term. But at least two years prior to Howard’s ETO deadline, dating back to the league’s monumental free-agent summer of 2010, his intentions and his decision-making process have been scrutinized, analyzed and widely criticized by fans and media across NBA nation.
Because Howard didn’t make up his mind until March 14, the eve of this season’s trade deadline – yet still a few months before he had to make a decision – he was cast as the bad guy. Because we couldn’t help but run Howard’s name through hundreds of trade scenarios sending him to Dallas or New Jersey or L.A. or Chicago or Miami or Oklahoma City, because the Magic weren’t given the luxury of Howard making the jobs of their player-personnel staff easier, Howard was tried and convicted of “holding the franchise hostage.” He was accused of flexing his superstar status to manipulate the poor billionaires who own NBA franchises.
So when Howard ultimately decided to waive his ETO, kill the trade rumors (for now) and stay in Orlando through next season, he apologized in an interview with RealGM.com:
“I have gotten some bad advice,” Howard said. “I apologize for this circus I have caused to the fans of our city. They didn’t deserve none of this. I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. I will do whatever I can to make this right and do what I was put in Orlando to do.”
He added, “The fans deserve a better hero and I will make that happen.”
The truth is that he didn’t deserve none of this.