When Dwight Howard emerged from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and went straight to the NBA, he was a 6-11 teenage kid dubbed “The Man Child.” That was way back in 2004.
These days, Howard is a veteran of the game who has experienced some major highs (Olympic gold medalist, eight NBA All-Star appearances, three NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, etc.) and some disappointing lows (chiefly among them his underwhelming stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets). Now a member of his home team Atlanta Hawks, Howard is looking for a career revival and maybe a little redemption too.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, he talks about the influence of his family, the importance of faith in his life, and how his very existence is truly miraculous:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your childhood growing up in Atlanta.
Dwight Howard: It was interesting. My dad started working there during the last year of my high school. In the beginning, he was a state trooper and a policeman and he also took the time out to coach track and field for our school. He also did basketball. He was still there as a father. My mom has always been there. They were the strongest people I’ve ever seen dealing with what they had to deal with and my mom losing seven kids (to miscarriages). I saw how they overcame that. It was tough but my mom, she was strong willed and she overcame it.
Bonham: Wasn’t your dad a state trooper for a while?
Howard: Yeah, it was crazy. He told me some horror stories and about the times he could have been killed and God spared his life and just some of the situations he had to go through as a cop. It was tough. A lot of people in the world don’t really care too much for police officers but he was a great cop. It was tough having a cop for a dad because everybody doesn’t really like them. But my dad was a people person. He always gave people second chances. Instead of giving them tickets he let them go because he was a regular human being too. He just had a job in law enforcement.
Bonham: Your mom had some issues with her pregnancies before you were born. How has that impacted you as a young adult?
Howard: I’m really thankful to be alive. If you get to know me, I’m a person that’s always smiling and always joyful and I’ve been that way since I was born because of the struggles I went through. I was supposed to be number eight that died so I’m always thankful. My mom and dad have always been there. We prayed almost every morning. We had a great foundation at home and it carried on over to school and it carried on over to basketball and it will help me for the rest of my life.
Bonham: When did you know basketball would be in your long-term future?
Howard: Growing up, I played about every sport imaginable except soccer and hockey. I’ve always had a passion for basketball. I remember actually playing basketball when I was two or three years old. The time I knew that I could really take my game to the next level, there were two different occurrences. It was my first year of AAU and my team got third place in the nation. We did real good that year. I saw the guys that I was playing against and I felt that the next year I could be just as good as those guys if not better. After that had finished, I told my dad that I wanted to go to the NBA and I wanted to become the best basketball player. He was like, “Okay, well if you want to do it, I’m going to do everything I can to help you get there.” It was just the little stuff that I was always faithful over. We weren’t poor, but we didn’t have a lot of money. Stuff like shoes, I really took advantage of the shoes I got. I remember when I was 12 years old I had two pairs of shoes. I had some white Pro Wings and some black Pro Wings. Those were like $10 shoes. I wore those for almost two years. We were just faithful over the small stuff. When I was 15 years old, I was playing a 2-on-2 game against one of the school’s best players and the head coach. I was a lot smaller than the other guy but my team won and my teammate told me, “You know what? You’re going to go into the NBA out of high school. Watch.” After then, I just put in the work.
Bonham: What led to your decision to go pro out of high school?
Howard: I always wanted to come out of high school and go into the NBA. I felt that I was ready. I prepared myself physically and spiritually to become eligible for the draft. I just felt that it was my time and God wanted me to do it. So if He says I’ve got to do something, I have to do it. They were talking about me being the number-one or number-two pick my whole senior year. I wrote my goal down at the beginning of my senior year that I was going to go number one in the draft. That was my goal and I wasn’t going to stop until I got it.
Bonham: When did you first make a commitment to Christ?
Howard: We grew up in the church but just because you grow up in the church, that doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I made a commitment when I was 13 or 14. I was dating a young lady and I thought I was in love with her. She broke my heart and I was looking for love in the wrong places instead of looking for love with God. That was one instance when I knew I had to get my life straight. Then a couple of years later, I was back to my old ways and I broke my leg and that’s when I got closer to Christ.
Bonham: What do you enjoy about working with kids through your foundation?
Howard: I like talking to kids and telling people about my testimony and that they don’t have to be afraid. There’s a lot of stuff I do in the community that I do on my own. I really like speaking to kids and going to youth events. I also like giving back. A lot of schools can’t even take their kids on field trips so I just try to provide them with some money so they can give their kids a chance to see things.
Bonham: How do you want to use your platform to positively affect lives?
Howard: I’m down to earth. I’m laid back. I just like to make sure people smile. Everybody needs to realize that it doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are, you still can be a Christian and live for God. It’s not easy but that’s why we have God’s word and He forgives us when we do something we shouldn’t be doing. You know, God sent His son to die for us and He paid that sacrifice so you can go to Heaven.
(Photos: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images; Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images; USA Basketball)