As the Atlanta Hawks cool down from their hot start, which even had the Cleveland Cavaliers impressed, they’ve still given us one of the best stories of the season. Dwight Howard’s resurgence as a happier, matured veteran is making us believe that the typically childish and flatulent Superman wannabe can finally be the leader that he refused to be in Orlando, L.A., and Houston. He’s still giving back to the community and saying the right things to the media, but it doesn’t feel rehearsed and forced this time.
According to a new interview with The Vertical, Howard’s evolution came about because of a random run-in with Rev. Jesse Jackson. The two men were dining at the same Chicago restaurant, when Howard says the Rev. told him to focus on the bigger picture of his legacy by helping people in need.
Howard said Jackson told him, “Your legacy is already written in stone, but it’s things you can do away from the game that would be bigger and impact more lives than what you do on the court.”
While Howard has already made it his off-court mission to help kids in need – be it with a mannequin challenge and by serving a huge Thanksgiving meal, or speaking to at-risk kids in detention centers – his new attitude and sense of maturity allows him to teach kids lessons he could have used earlier in his career.
One kid expressed his desire to one day become a comedian, using the question-and-answer session to lob a one-liner at Howard: “Why can’t you shoot free throws?” Howard searched out the kid afterward to remind him that it’s fine to laugh and have fun, but some moments in life require some seriousness. The kid smiled uncomfortably before Howard stated, “Guys that are laughing with you now will be laughing at you later.”
To hear such a message from Howard was a tad startling because he often heard similar criticism throughout his career for not taking the game seriously enough – an assessment that continues to sting. “For people who didn’t know me and didn’t know how hard I worked, it gave a perception that that’s all I’m about is goofing off. That’s not me at all,” Howard told The Vertical. “I take what I do serious but at the same time, I want to have fun while I’m doing it. I didn’t like hearing that.” (Via The Vertical)
Of course, no matter how much he’s grown and matured, Howard is still making people laugh. Just ask Kent Bazemore.