Here is a fascinating bit of television that made me like Dwight Howard more than I ever thought I would, or could. The Houston Rockets big man—well, for now—filled in for Shaq last night on TNT's studio show with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, and Barkley started grilling Howard about all the things people talk about when they talk about the Howard narrative. That is, that he's aloof, seems disinterested in playing, people don't like him, can he play with James Harden? and so on. Amazingly, Howard actually addressed these things in a comparatively non-bullshit manner.
Usually questions like these don't even get asked, let alone answered honestly, but the relationship between the people in the conversation—a young player and an older, Hall of Fame player, as opposed to the often adversarial player-reporter relationship—probably made it easier for Howard to shoot straight. Dwight opens up about why he thinks people don't like him and speculates (convincingly!) that it probably goes back to the way things ended in Orlando. And he's probably right. Howard was a league darling back then, donning a Superman cape for the dunk contest, smiling all the time. Then he forced a trade amid a flurry of bizarre phoniness and quickly became a villain. His time with the Lakers was a disaster and he never got along with Kobe—something we probably shouldn't hold against him at this point—and then he signed with the Rockets, where he doesn't seem to get along with Harden either.
Howard goes on to address the widespread assumption that he and Harden don't get along. They get along fine, he says, and just need to find better chemistry on the court. It's also interesting to hear about the specific plight of the Big Man on a team with a ball-dominating player like Harden. "As a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what's going on. If I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes and go between the legs and do all that stuff, that'd be great. But I have to rely on my teammates at certain aspects to get the ball."
Howard also got into the pop psychology of body language and the other weird things talking heads pretend they're experts in and how he can't seem to win either way. One of the reasons people don't like him, Howard says, is that they found it off-putting because he smiled too much, although it was also a problem if he didn't smile enough. His reaction to Harden's game-winner, and the subsequent fallout, is a prime example. While he's not worried about whether people like him or not, or so he says, Howard wants people to have an understanding of who he is as a person. Which...is a pretty honest and human thing to want.
Howard is probably going to opt out of his contract with the Rockets and become a free agent—he told Barkley on the show that he hadn't made a decision yet—so he's certainly got an incentive to come across like a more mature and likable guy. But this was an interesting eight minutes or so regardless.