NBA PM: Can Dwight Howard Repair Image?
Ironically, one of the main reasons that superstar center Dwight Howard wanted to leave the Orlando Magic was to improve his image. Howard wants to build a global brand that transcends sports and he didn’t think that could happen in Orlando. While Howard became a household name in America and traveled around the world during the offseason, he never felt that the Magic marketed him to his full potential. After growing frustrated in Orlando and seeing the perks that were routinely rewarded to star players in large markets, Howard set his sights on Brooklyn and, eventually, Los Angeles.
Now, after last week’s trade to the Lakers, Howard has gotten his wish. However, prior to landing in the large market that was supposed to open new doors and allow his popularity to skyrocket, Howard tarnished his image with a series of public relations mistakes and poor decisions.
After more than a year of drama, most basketball fans were tired of hearing about the disgruntled superstar. Howard was criticized for demanding a trade out of Orlando, flip-flopping at the trade deadline and feuding with former Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy. By refusing to discuss his situation and letting “sources” talk for him, Howard further angered fans. When he decided to cancel his annual summer camp for Orlando-area children, he was criticized by people across the country.
The 26-year-old was once a fan favorite, but that was no longer the case after the “Dwightmare.” Superman had become the villain. Fans burned his jersey and sent him angry tweets. Even Los Angeles had soured on Howard before acquiring him, as evidenced by the loud boos he received when he was shown on the video board at a Dodgers game in early August.
The drama is behind Howard, but one question remains unanswered: Will Howard be able to repair his tarnished image and change the way he’s perceived? It’s possible.
For proof, look no further than Miami HEAT forward LeBron James.
Before Howard, it was James who was public enemy number one. Two years ago, James made a number of mistakes and his image took beating after beating, culminating in one of the worst public relations disasters in sports. While “The Decision” is James’ most memorable blunder, it wasn’t his only mistake of the 2010 offseason.
From hijacking the NBA Finals with an interview related to his free agency to leading potential suitors on until the final minute to deciding not to thank Cleveland in a newspaper ad he purchased to guaranteeing that Miami would multiple championships, James made headlines for all of the wrong reasons. Fans and media weren’t the only ones criticizing James; all-time greats such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman called him out as well.
Everyone was putting James on blast, which prompted him to tweet, “Don’t think for one minute that I haven’t been keeping mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone.”
During a Team USA scrimmage at Radio City Music Hall that summer, James was the only star player not to be interviewed by the game’s emcee or shown on the two video screens for fear that he would be booed.
If James wasn’t already the NBA’s villain, he won the role when he delivered the following rant to his critics after losing the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks:
“All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today,” James said. “They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. So they can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they got to get back to the real world at some point.”
Now, King James has returned to his throne. His image has been almost entirely restored. While he still has critics, he has plenty of supporters to balance them out.
Since maturing and winning, he’s marketable again. He no longer has to hide at Team USA events. Instead, he’s described as the team’s leader. After becoming just the second player after Jordan to win the NBA’s MVP, NBA championship, Finals MVP and gold medal in the same year, there hasn’t been one negative word written or said about James, just praise.
For awhile, James was one of the most hated individual in sports. If he was able to repair his image, then so too can Howard. The process of changing how Howard is perceived has already begun, with a self-deprecating apology to the Los Angeles media here and a Kobe impression there. Fans in Orlando will continue to hate Howard, just as fans in Cleveland still despise James. However, it’s possible for Howard to win back fans across the country and earn new ones globally.
If James’ restoration is any indication, all it will take is Howard performing at a high level and winning a championship, which shouldn’t be too hard since he’s positioned himself alongside proven veterans Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, to undo his mistakes and get back to that goal of building a global brand.
Budinger Thrilled to Land in Minnesota: Entering this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves were determined to add veterans to their team and bolster their roster for a playoff push. While the acquisitions of Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko received the most attention, the addition of Chase Budinger may be just as big. The 24-year-old was acquired from the Houston Rockets in exchange for a first-round pick, and he’s excited to resume his career with the Timberwolves.
Budinger, unlike Roy and Kirilenko, played in the NBA last season and still has room for growth. Last year, the 24-year-old averaged 9.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 58 games off of Houston’s bench. He’ll be reunited with Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman in Minnesota. The two men worked together for two years in Houston and built a strong relationship. His bond with Adelman coupled with the team’s needs and expectations makes Budinger believe he’s landed in the perfect situation for him.
HOOPSWORLD caught up with Budinger at Baron Davis’ All-Star Kickball Game at UCLA, a benefit to support the “Rising Stars of America”, and he seemed excited about the change of scenery.
“It’s definitely a good fit for me,” Budinger told HOOPSWORLD. “The greatest thing about the trade is that I’m back with head coach Rick Adelman, who I played with for two years. It’s not like I’m going to a new team and a new system. I know his system and I know the coaches very well. The only thing that I have to adjust to is playing with new players and I think that’ll be easy because Rick Adelman is one of those great coaches who’s really able to connect his players with one another. I’m very happy to be there. I can’t wait to get there, start practices with the team and get ready for the season.”
Adelman and Budinger trust each other, which means the small forward will likely be counted on to play a significant role from day one in Minnesota. Budinger has nothing but respect for his head coach.
“It’s just his personality,” Budinger said when asked what makes Adelman a great coach. “He’s a coach that you really want to play for and you really want to win for him. He really relates well to his players and lets them play through mistakes, which lets them play freely. That’s what’s so great about him.”
Entering this season, Minnesota’s goal is to make the playoffs. If centerpieces Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio can take the next step in their development and if they receive contributions from their newly-added veterans, it’s very possible that the Timberwolves could secure one of the final seeds in the Western Conference. Budinger believes the team has improved and that the goal is within reach.
“They definitely made a lot of changes this summer, but I think the changes are all good,” Budinger said. “They are changes that the GM wanted and also Rick Adelman wanted. I think we’re going to be a lot better and I think we’re going to have a chance to make the playoffs.”
Individually, Budinger has been working on handling the ball and running the pick-and-roll.
“A lot of ball handling and a lot of pick-and-rolls,” Budinger said of his offseason workouts. “Coach Adelman told me that he wanted me to be involved more in the pick-and-roll so that’s what I’ve been working on a lot.”
The addition of Budinger in Minnesota has been overlooked since he was dealt prior to the 2012 NBA Draft, but he’ll likely be a key contributor for the Timberwolves in the upcoming season.
Up Close With Jerome Jordan: After spending last season with the New York Knicks, big man Jerome Jordan is currently an unrestricted free agent. Jordan was traded to the Houston Rockets as part of the Marcus Camby trade, but was waived by the Rockets several days later. Now, Jordan is working out at Impact Basketball in Los Angeles and waiting to see what his future holds.
“It was kind of tough, especially because it was my first time being traded,” Jordan said. “I was looking forward to going to Houston and playing, but then soon after I got waived. The only thing I can control is working hard. I’m just going to keep working hard and be ready when the next opportunity comes.”
“I’m just waiting. I know my agent is talking and working for me. I’m trying to wait it out and just keep working. I want to be in a good position to play and compete for a back-up spot. I’m going to keep working hard and show teams that I can play.”
Jordan’s stint with the Knicks allowed him to improve as a player. At Impact, he was scoring at will and dominating pick-up games. He didn’t look anything like the raw center who spent time in Serbia and the D-League before earning some minutes with New York last season. He credits the guidance of Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, as well as hard work, for his development.
“I’m definitely better,” Jordan said. “At first, I played overseas and I learned some stuff over there, but there’s no place like the NBA. Playing in the NBA, learning from those coaches and playing with guys like Tyson, Melo and Amar’e really helped me in my first year.”
Check out HOOPSWORLD’s complete interview with Jordan: