Dwight Howard is best known for the raw physical power he brings to the court, but it’s his internal fortitude and follow-through that have fueled the young phenom’s rise to the top of the NBA. In seventh grade, Dwight made a list of some life goals. Working diligently to achieve them, he’s been checking them off, one goal at a time.
Since joining the Orlando Magic in 2004, the 6’11” young star has steadily improved all aspects of his game. After his rookie season, Dwight added 20 pounds of muscle, enabling him to make the jump from forward to center. In his second season, he became the youngest player in history to lead the NBA in rebounds with 1,022. His development and talent were best highlighted on an April evening in 2006, when he scored 28 and pulled down 26 boards, coming ever so close to a historic 30-30 performance.
After putting on a freakish display in the 2007 Slam Dunk Contest, representing the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game and leading the Magic to the postseason, ‘Da Kid’ is headed in the right direction to accomplishing his final goal.
STACK: How would you describe your childhood, and when did basketball become an important part of your life?
Dwight Howard: My childhood was always centered around playing a lot of different sports—basketball, baseball, football, tennis and table tennis. It was about playing every sport and staying active. Then, when I was about 10, I became really serious about basketball. I told my dad that I wanted to make it to the NBA, and he said he would do everything on his end to help me get there.
STACK: What are some life lessons you learned from your parents or other role models?
DH: I was taught to always respect other people, whether they are young or old. Just treat them with the same respect you want somebody to treat you or your parents. That laid a great foundation for me. No matter who the person is, I treat them with great respect.
STACK: When you were in seventh grade, you wrote down seven goals you wanted to achieve in life. Can you list a few of them?
DH: Yes. One of them was to win the state championship at least once, and I was able to do that. One was to be the first person taken in the NBA draft, and I did that too. Another was to be one of the greatest players and greatest people. Another one was to get the cross on the NBA logo. I had a dream about that one, and I always want my dreams to come true. It’s not just about the physical aspect of the cross being on there; it’s more about the spiritual aspect. Setting goals is something I still do. Every year, I set goals before the season starts. I use them to help me stay focused and in line.
STACK: Did you have any basketball idols you styled your game after?
DH: A big one was Kevin Garnett. I would go out and try to play like he did. Another one was Michael Jordan, and I always tried to dunk like Shaq.
STACK: What are your best weapons as an athlete, and, more specifically, as a basketball player?
DH: My quickness. Me being able to move quickly—especially being as big as I am—is a big weapon. I’m also a good learner, because I love to listen. I want to gain as much knowledge as I can.
STACK: You had an impressive high school career. What are some of your fondest memories?
Howard: Man, high school was very fun. I miss that dearly. I wish I could go back and do it all again. It’s something I’ll never forget, especially coming from the school I did. I was exposed to a lot of different things early in life—a lot of media and different coaches came to my school. Coach K’s visit was a big day, because everyone was so excited to see a coach they’d been watching on TV for years. The whole high school atmosphere and traveling around the country playing the AAU circuit was just great.
STACK: Has having fun on the court always been important to you?
Howard: Yes. When I’m out on there, I’m always smiling and having fun. You’ve got to enjoy it, because once you stop, it’s time to do something else.
STACK: Before you decided to go straight to the NBA, what was your college recruiting process like?
Howard: The college process was crazy. I was getting tons of mail every day from schools across the nation, which was weird for me, because I’d never experienced anything like it. It was strange to think that a university wanted me to come and play basketball there. It seemed like they would do anything, as far as writing letters, to make sure I was OK every day.
STACK: How has it been adjusting to the NBA and adulthood in general?
DH: It’s a process; I’m still learning. I went from a rookie not knowing anything to where I am now. I’ve matured a lot since my first year—physically, mentally and spiritually—which has made me a better person.
STACK: After your rookie season, you added a lot of muscle to your frame. Were you focused on doing that?
DH: I think it was part of my natural growth, but I tried to get in the weight room and get as strong as I could. I didn’t want to get pushed around, and that [growth] really helped me. I’ve always known the importance of training, but it was especially important when I got to the NBA.
STACK: What are some goals you have set for your body and game for the next few years?
DH: I am working hard this off-season to get my vert up three more inches. Right now it’s at 39, and I want to get three more inches above that. I’m also trying to get my body stronger and in better shape.
STACK: When things aren’t going well, or you’re facing a particularly difficult workout, what is your motivation to get through it?
DH: My inspiration is simple—just wanting to be the best and get to the top. Every time I push a weight up or do a sprint, I think about all the guys who are ahead of me and how they got there. That keeps me going. Also, the kids around the nation who believe in me, my friends, family and school, and all the people in Orlando really push me to become a better athlete and person.
STACK: Describe your mentality when you’re fighting for a rebound.
DH: Just like in life, if you want to do something good, you need to want it more than the next person. I take that approach to basketball, rebounding and anything I do. If I want it, I need to really go for it. That’s the best thing to think about when rebounding. You need to want the ball more and go get it.
STACK: What’s the best thing about being a young NBA star?
DH: Being able to touch the lives of kids and teenagers across the nation. Some are about the same age as me, so we can relate to each other. I can have a positive effect on them.
STACK: How do you want people to remember you when it’s all said and done?
DH: I want to be remembered as one of the greatest centers. I want to leave a legacy behind of helping other people. The only way we can become good people is to believe in ourselves and others.
STACK: What advice can you offer a high school athlete based on your experiences?
DH: Always remember your priorities in life. Make sure that you are disciplined enough to follow through with everything that you want to accomplish. The biggest thing my high school coach taught me is discipline. That has carried me a long way.