Dwight Howard “All of a sudden I went from the good guy to the devil.”
“Your purpose,” Dwight Howard, pastor said to him as a teenager, “is to use basketball as a platform for God’s glory.” That was the plan. When the Magic drafted Howard with the No. 1 pick in 2004. Instead of that happening, Howard got into the league and lost his way. Now, he shares with Sports Illustrated that he’s focused on finding his way back to God and the game of basketball.
Never married, he has five children by five women. He has lost millions of dollars to friends and family, and he has at times been estranged from his parents.
“My life got so complicated,” Howard says. “And one thing I’ve learned is that eventually, what you do off the court will affect what you do on the court.”
At a low point with the Rockets, after the 2014–15 season, he considered retiring. The jolly giant who supposedly had too much fun on the floor was miserable.
“The joy,” Howard says, “was sucked out of it.” But what would retirement accomplish? He had to change his life, regardless of his occupation. So he did what his teenage self would have done. He saw a pastor.
Calvin Simmons has ministered to hundreds of professional athletes in the past decade, including Adrian Peterson, so he is familiar with dramatic falls from grace.
“Dwight had gone from the darling of the NBA to the black sheep,” Simmons says. “He realized he had done some things wrong and needed to change, but at the beginning he just wanted to share.”
Howard started seeing Simmons for three hours a day, three to four days a week, in Houston and on the road.
“We talked a lot about the difference between physical attraction and authentic love,” Simmons recalls. “When Dwight first got to Orlando, he was looking at teammates who were 28, with a wife and two kids, going off to dinner. That’s what he desired, an authentic relationship with a real girlfriend. But when you’re raised in the faith and you fall into something, there can be a tendency to feel like you’re not worthy of coming out of it. You can go into a dark hole and stay there. He got to a point where he thought, ‘I like sex and I don’t believe the heart really exists, because that’s not what anybody is reaching for.’ So he went through this process where he enjoyed something detrimental to him. Some of our best conversations were about why you put yourself in a position to be devalued.”
This summer he finally found someone to give him the benefit of the doubt. On June 20, Howard was walking out of L.A. Fitness in Atlanta, swaddled in Hawks sweats, when Michael Jordan called. The voice took Howard back to his last high school game, the 2004 Jordan Brand Classic at Maryland. Through a mouthful of braces Howard thanked Jordan for lifting the NBA, and Jordan told the earnest phenom he could hoist the league higher.
“Why are you so pissed off?” Jordan asked, 13 years later. I thought that’s what people wanted, Howard thought. “When you’re pissed, you’re out of control, and you’re not focusing on your shots or your free throws or the right type of defense,” Jordan went on. “Why play pissed when you can play determined?” Jordan, the Hornets’ owner, explained that he was bringing Howard to Charlotte to learn the difference.