“You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.” — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
For the sake of the Orlando Magic and maybe the center position in general, hopefully Dwight Howard takes that lesson from his NBA Finals counterpart Andrew Bynum‘s hired mentor and uses it to continue on that path he’s on to become the most (or second-most) dominant player in the League.
When he’s replaying the last 12 months in his mind, Dwight will remember yesterday’s Game 5 loss above anything else. Not the Defensive Player of the Year award, or any of the 20-point/20-board nights, or even the Olympic gold medal game. He’ll remember watching Kobe and the Lakers celebrate a championship on his court. And if not that, he’ll remember missing two crucial free throws at the end of Game 4. Either way, he’ll think more of what could’ve been than the positives of what did happen.
But even though Dwight was as much of a non-factor (11 pts, 10 rebs, 3 blks) in the clincher as somebody with his skills could be, there were some positives to take from the experience. Like how, on occasion, he showed some grown-man post moves against Pau Gasol and Bynum to get himself buckets beyond the “Bang-Jump-Dunk” method. Or how he completely dominated most of Game 4, when he put up 21 boards and nine blocks.
Most importantly, Dwight can learn how to lose like Kareem said and come back stronger. If there are two enduring criticisms of Dwight, it’s that he doesn’t have enough offensive game, and he doesn’t seem to take things too seriously; people still see him as a big, goofy kid who can’t take over a team and who may not live up to his own potential because of his nice-guy personality. Losing this series could go a long way in dispelling both of those knocks. Throughout his championship run, Kobe referenced the feeling of losing to the Celtics in 2008. Jordan was motivated by the losses to the Pistons before he ever made the Finals, and Isiah was pushed by losing to the Celtics and Lakers. LeBron was pushed to his best overall season after last year’s playoff loss to Boston.
For Dwight Howard, he can build on the promise he showed on the court in this series to improve his game — from post moves to free throws — and always remember the feeling of falling just short of the win every player wants to experience. If he does that, he’ll get himself closer to having a championship celebration of his own.