Last night on Inside the NBA, Dwight Howard filled in for Shaquille O’Neal, and what was supposed to be an easy gig talking playoff basketball with a couple broadcasting vets turned into an intervention when Charles Barkley asked Howard to explain why people generally dislike him.
It’s no secret that Howard has developed a reputation of being a “diva” or a “fake tough guy” in the league, and his run-ins with his former coach in Orlando, Stan Van Gundy, and Kobe Bryant have perpetuated that notion. After being a dominant force and MVP candidate as a member of the Magic for the first eight years of his career–he once averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds for an entire season–Howard has been good at best during the last four seasons (three in Houston, one in L.A.).
Howard answered Barkley’s question referencing his and Van Gundy’s fallout in Orlando, and even used the word “diva” to describe his perception, which was an acute display of self-awareness.
I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way the situation ended, I think people felt as though, I’m just this bad guy. I’m all about myself, I’m a diva, I’m stuck on being this famous basketball player—so people say, ‘I don’t like this guy.
Barkley followed his initial probe with another question, about Howard’s perceived lack of interest in playing with James Harden this past season, and moving forward.
Disinterested? I’m always interested in winning. But you know, as a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on. I’m always interested in the game. I’ve had the problem with smiling too much—people say I smile too much—so when I’m not smiling and doing all that stuff, it looks like I’m not interested in the game. So it’s like a thin line, where I’m like ‘Man, do I not smile? Or do I smile and have fun?’ And so that’s always been a struggle for me personally.
Both Barkley and Kenny Smith echoed each other’s sentiments when they offered up advice for Howard, who is entering his 13th season as a pro, and pleaded with him to be who he is no matter the circumstances, and to ignore what’s being said in the media (ironically).
While he was at it, Howard brushed off the notion that he’s already begun to think about staying in Houston or opting out of his contract and testing the free agent market. According to the Rockets center, immediately after being ousted out of the playoffs, he headed to a city near Cancun (much to the delight of Cancun enthusiast Charles Barkley) in Mexico to clear his head and prepare himself for a rigorous training regiment.
Should Howard opt out, he’s expected to be pursued by several teams, including Dallas and Boston; the latter was rumored to be part of trade discussions involving Howard at the February trading deadline. Watch the full, 15-minute segment above.