Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the talk of the NBA world this week thanks to an extensive deep dive from Baxter Holmes of ESPN. Frankly, the underworld of NBA food is a vastly under-covered part of the lifestyle that the league’s players enjoy and the piece is full of wildly intriguing tidbits that provide a window into what professional basketball players put into their body on a regular basis.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing tale, though, revolves around current Atlanta Hawks center and former All-Star Dwight Howard. Once the most dominant big man in the league while starring for the Orlando Magic, Howard encountered something of a road block facilitated by injury as he moved to the Los Angeles Lakers and things weren’t going swimmingly for him during the 2012-2013 season. While some of that could certainly be tied to a back surgery in April 2012, Howard also reportedly had a major sugar addiction that is, frankly, unbelievable.
The piece goes into great detail with regard to Howard’s issue, including the fact that the team’s nutrition believed it could be causing a major nerve issue.
By February’s All-Star break, it was time for a full-blown intervention, and Dr. Cate Shanahan, the Lakers’ nutritionist, led the charge, speaking to Howard by phone from her office in Napa, California. Howard’s legs tingled, he complained, but she noticed he was having trouble catching passes too, as if his hands were wrapped in oven mitts. Well, he quietly admitted, his fingers also tingled. Shanahan, with two decades of experience in the field, knew Howard possessed a legendary sweet tooth, and she suspected his consumption of sugar was causing a nerve dysfunction called dysesthesia, which she’d seen in patients with prediabetes. She urged him to cut back on sugar for two weeks. If that didn’t help, she said, she vowed to resign.
It is both jarring and quite serious to hear of a top-tier NBA player having issues with his extremities but a peek into what Howard was regularly consuming provides a bit of insight as to why.
To alter Howard’s diet, though, Shanahan first had to understand it. After calls with his bodyguard, chef and a personal assistant, she uncovered a startling fact: Howard had been scarfing down about two dozen chocolate bars’ worth of sugar every single day for years, possibly as long as a decade. “You name it, he ate it,” she says. Skittles, Starbursts, Rolos, Snickers, Mars bars, Twizzlers, Almond Joys, Kit Kats and oh, how he loved Reese’s Pieces. He’d eat them before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, and like any junkie, he had stashes all over — in his kitchen, his bedroom, his car, a fix always within reach.
The concept of any human consuming “two dozen chocolate bars’ worth of sugar” on a daily basis seems inconceivable and it is a wonder that Howard was able to perform at an obscenely high level during his time with the Magic as a result. The finality of the issue came when the there was the aforementioned intervention, and while Howard held out for the ability to continue eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it seems clear that he kicked the crazy habit for the most part.
It becomes difficult to overlook how much potential damage the now 31-year-old center may have done to his body during this period of “possibly as long as a decade.” For his own health and well-being, it is definitely a good thing that it was remedied. In the end, though, there is plenty to unpack as to how any athlete, much less one with Howard’s stature, would actually acquire an addiction to this degree without encountering more resistance earlier.