Even in a team that has LeBron James, Dwight ‘Superman’ Howard has made his presence felt for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. The 6-foot-10 center has played a key role in attack and defence as the team reached the NBA Finals, which begins on September 30 in Bay Lake, Florida. The best-of-seven series will be played between the Lakers and the Miami Heat.
Howard, 34, last reached the Finals in 2009. He was playing for the Orlando Magic at that time, who lost the contest to the Lakers. More than a decade later, his chance at a championship ring comes full circle with the very team that denied him the last time.
"I promised myself if I ever got a chance to get back, I was going to give everything I got to help our team win,” Howard said in the lead-up to the Finals. "I didn't think this would ever happen, but I'm just so thankful and grateful that I have this opportunity, and I'm going to make the most of it."
Howard will not be short of emotional fuel. He wants to win the title for his 6-year-old son David, who lost his mother this year. The child has been struggling to cope. Being a part of the Lakers campaign with his father has brought some cheer to his life and Howard wants to give his boy the ultimate gift of victory.
"I think it will mean the world to him (if we win). He’ll never forget this moment and neither will I," Howard said. "He (David) said it’s the worst year of his life and he asked why life is so hard. And I didn’t know how to really answer that for him."
The other emotional tug for Howard and all of the Lakers is the memory of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January. Howard and Kobe were teammates for only one season – 2012-13. In that relatively short time, he received valuable advice from Kobe. He says it has made him the player he is today.
In an interview, Howard said Kobe told him, "You’re already one of the best in the world. Continue to do what you’re doing. Work on the elbow jump shot and bank shots."
Howard added, "I was like, ‘Well, how many shots do you shoot in a day?’ He said he used to make 1,000 shots a day. That’s what I started doing: Shooting and making 1,000 jump shots a day."
Another interesting event, closer to home, occurred between Howard’s last trip to the Finals and now. He visited India in 2010 and got to see one of his favourite animals, the tiger. On a lighter note, he also admitted to a crush on Katrina Kaif. The easily outraged moral police should note that he was single then.
"Seeing tigers up close was a dream come true. I'm single, so I have to say I have not seen so many beautiful women in my life. I have a huge crush on Katrina Kaif," Howard said in a newspaper interview during his visit.
In the next few days, don’t be surprised if Superman emits some roars as he goes about his business.