Dwight Howard is a First Ballot Basketball Hall of Famer. That will be true even if he doesn’t win an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
Over the course of his 15-year career, Howard has been a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a five-time rebounding champion, a two-time block champion, an eight-time All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist. His peak is something that few centers have ever reached.
All that being said, Howard doesn’t want to end his career without a championship. That should go without saying, but Howard told Shams Charania of The Athletic that his reason for wanting to wing a championship is much bigger than the Larry O’Brien trophy:
“For me, a championship is … I don’t see it as a trophy or ring, I see it as leveling up. I done played this game for so long and I keep getting to one part and I can’t beat it. It’s like playing Mortal Kombat and you get all the way to Goro, and you can’t beat him. And one day you finally beat him. It’s like: I finally did it. This is amazing. For me, it’s like getting past that last level. That championship level. Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve always said I’m a champion, and that’s a mindset. Now with that mindset of hard work and dedication, having a trophy would just be the icing on the cake. I can tell my kids, my family, no matter how long it takes, never give up on whatever you dream for. A lot of people get right there to the edge and they think there’s no way out, and they give up.”
Howard came close to winning a title with the Orlando Magic in 2009, but, ironically, the Lakers were the team that prevented that from happening. Howard was 23 when he made his last Finals appearance. He’s 34 now, and the past 11 years have shaped Howard into a person that would probably appreciate a ring more now than he would have back then.
In a span of five years, Howard went from a starting, All-Star caliber center, to a player that no one wanted in their locker room because of his ego. And after getting traded twice last offseason and ending up on a rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies team that had no intention of playing him, it seemed like Howard’s NBA journey was over.
Now, Howard is a key piece to a championship-contending team, even if he isn’t the All-Star center he used to be. In fact, a strong argument can be made that the Lakers would have had a harder time coming out of the Western Conference Finals without Howard’s contributions.
Howard’s redemption story has been a joy to follow along with over the past year, but it’s not over yet. For his sake and the Lakers’, let’s hope it has a happy ending.