is an American professional basketball player who currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Howard, who usually plays center but can also play power forward, had an outstanding high school career at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. He chose to forgo college and entered the 2004 NBA Draft, and was selected first overall by the Orlando Magic. A seven-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA team selection, five-time All-Defensive member, and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard has been ranked consistently as one of the best in the league in rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage and free throw attempts, and has set numerous franchise and league records. He led the Magic to three division titles and one conference title, and he was the winner of the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. In the 2008 Olympics, he was the starting center for Team USA, which went on to win the gold medal. He was traded to the Lakers in 2012.
Before he was drafted in 2004, Howard said that he wanted to use his NBA career and Christian faith to "raise the name of God within the league and throughout the world". In November 2009, he was named one of the 10 finalists for the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, which awards athletes for their charitable work.
Early lifeHoward was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Dwight, Sr. and Sheryl Howard, and into a family with strong athletic connections. His father is a Georgia State Trooper and serves as Athletic Director of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, a private academy with one of the best high school basketball programs in the country, while his mother played on the inaugural women's basketball team at Morris Brown College. Howard's mother had seven miscarriages before he was born. A devout Christian since his youth, Howard became serious about basketball around the age of nine; when in the eighth grade, he resolved to be selected as the number one pick in the NBA Draft one day. Despite his large frame, Howard was quick and versatile enough to play the guard position. He elected to attend Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy for high school, and in his four years he played mostly as power forward, averaging 16.6 points per game (ppg), 13.4 rebounds per game (rpg) and 6.3 blocks per game in 129 appearances. As a senior, Howard led his team to the 2004 state title. He averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds, 8.1 blocks and 3.5 assists per game. That same year, Howard was widely recognized as the best American high school basketball player, and he was awarded the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award, the Morgan Wootten High School Player of the Year Award, Gatorade National Player of the Year and the McDonald's National High School Player of the Year honor. He was also co-MVP (with J. R. Smith) of the McDonald's High School All-American Game that year. On January 31, 2012, Howard was also honored as one of the 35 greatest McDonald's All-Americans.
Orlando Magic (2004–2012)
Early years (2004–2007)
Howard reported to camp for his second NBA campaign having added 20 pounds of muscle during the off-season. Orlando coach Brian Hill—responsible for grooming former Magic superstar Shaquille O'Neal—decided that Howard should be converted into a full-fledged center. Hill identified two areas where Howard needed to improve: his post-up game, and his defense. He exerted extra pressure on Howard, saying that the Magic would need him to emerge as a force in the middle before the team had a chance at the playoffs. Even though the big man played tentatively at times, he was able to build on his strong rookie year with an impressive sophomore season. On November 15, 2005, in a home game against the Charlotte Bobcats, Howard scored 21 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the youngest player ever to score 20 or more points and gather 20 or more rebounds in the same game. He was selected to play on the Sophomore Team in the 2006 Rookie Challenge during the All-Star break, and on April 15, 2006, he recorded a career-high 26 rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers; his 28 points in that game also brought him close to an NBA rarity, a 30–30 game.Overall, he averaged 15.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, ranking second in the NBA in rebounds per game, offensive rebounds, and double doubles; and sixth in field goal percentage. Despite Howard's improvement, the Magic finished the season with a 36–46 win-loss record and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive season since Howard's arrival.
Howard took another step forward as the franchise player for Orlando in the 2006–07 season, and for the third consecutive season he played in all 82 regular season games. On February 1, 2007, he received his first NBA All-Star selection as a reserve on the Eastern Conference squad for the 2007 NBA All-Star Game. Howard finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Less than a week later, he recorded a career-high 32 points against the Toronto Raptors. A highlight was his game-winning alley-oop off an inbound pass at the buzzer against the San Antonio Spurs at Amway Arena on February 9. As the push for playoff spots intensified, Howard was instrumental, recording another career-high 35 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 14, 2007. Under his leadership, the Magic qualified for the 2007 NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2003 as the number eight seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the Magic were swept by the eventual Eastern Conference finalist Detroit Pistons in the first round. Howard averaged 17.6 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, and finished first in the NBA in total rebounds, second in field goal percentage, and ninth in blocks. He was further recognized as one of the best players in the league when he was named to the All-NBA Third Team at the end of the 2006–07 campaign.
Leader of consecutive division champions (2007–2010)Howard continued posting impressive numbers in the 2007–08 season; with free agent Rashard Lewis added to the ranks alongside Hedo Türkoğlu to provide an extra offensive spark, this was the Magic's best season yet. Howard's strong and consistent play ensured that he was named as a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and by the time the mid-season break arrived, he was leading the league in double doubles (he concluded the season with a league-high 69) and had recorded 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game on five occasions (eight by the season's end). On February 16, 2008, he won the 2008 NBA slam dunk contest by receiving 78% of the fan's votes via text messaging or online voting; in that contest, he performed a series of innovative dunks said to have rejuvenated the contest, including donning a Superman cape for one of the dunks. Howard led the Magic to their first division title in 12 years and to the third seed for the 2008 NBA Playoffs, and in the first-round match-up against the Toronto Raptors, Howard's dominance (three 20 point/20 rebound games) and point guard Jameer Nelson's strong play ensured that Orlando prevailed over five games. Howard's series total of 91 rebounds was also greater than the total rebounds collected by the entire Toronto frontcourt. In the next round against the Pistons, the Magic lost the first two road games before Howard's 20 point/12 rebound performance in Game 3 salvaged a home win. In that same week, the center was named to the All-NBA First Team for the first time, and subsequently, the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Detroit played without their star point guard Chauncey Billups for Games 4 and 5, but Orlando was unable to capitalize on that and lost the series 4–1 to the veteran playoffs team.
The 2008–09 campaign began well for Howard. Ten games into the season, the center was leading the league in blocks per game (4.2) and even recorded his first triple-double: 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks. In December, he injured his left knee and missed the first game of his career after playing in 351 consecutive games. At the halfway point of the season, Howard was leading the league in rebounds and blocks, and was among the league leaders in field goal percentage. He garnered a record 3.1 million votes to earn the starting berth on the Eastern Conference team for the 2009 NBA All-Star game. On March 25, 2009, Howard led Orlando to its second straight Southeast Division title with 11 games of the regular season left to play, and eventually the third seed for the 2009 NBA Playoffs with a 59–23 record. On April 21, 2009, he became the youngest player ever to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, achieving a goal he had set for himself before the start of the season. The Magic went into the playoffs without its injured starting point guard Jameer Nelson, and in the first round against the 76ers, Howard recorded 24 points and 24 rebounds in Game 5 to give Orlando a 3–2 lead, before the Magic closed out the series in six games. On May 6, 2009, the center was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, and a week later, to the All-NBA First Team.
In the second round of the playoffs against the defending champions Boston, the Magic blew a lead in Game 5 and Howard publicly questioned coach Stan Van Gundy's tactics and said that he should be given the ball more; in Game 6, the center posted 23 points and 22 rebounds to force the series into seven games. The Magic went on to defeat Boston, and then defeated Cleveland—which was led by league MVP LeBron James—4–2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Howard had a playoffs career-high 40 points to go with his 14 rebounds in the deciding Game 6, leading Orlando to its first NBA Finals in 14 years. The Los Angeles Lakers took the first two home games to establish a 2–0 lead in the Finals, before a home win by the Magic brought the score to 2–1. In Game 4, despite Howard putting up 21 rebounds and a Finals-record of 9 blocks in a game, the Magic lost in overtime. The Lakers went on to win Game 5, and the NBA Finals.
The Magic went into the 2009–10 season with one major roster change: Türkoğlu departed for the Toronto Raptors, while eight-time NBA All-Star Vince Carter arrived from the New Jersey Nets. As with the previous two seasons, the Magic got off to a strong start, winning 17 of their first 21 games, setting a franchise record in the process. He also picked up two Conference Player of the Week awards. On January 21, 2010, Howard was named as the starting center for the East in the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. Not long after the Magic completed the regular season with 59 wins and their third consecutive division title, Howard won the Defensive Player of the Year Award for the second straight year. He became the first player in NBA history to lead the league in blocks and rebounds in the same season twice—and for two years in a row. During the playoffs, the Magic defeated both Charlotte and Atlanta 4 games to none, in the first and second rounds respectively. In reaching the Conference Finals again, the Magic faced Boston—who had upset Cleveland in the Semifinals—Orlando lost the first three games, took the next two, but finally succumbed in Game 6.
Frustration (2010–201In the 2010–11 regular season, Howard posted career-highs in points and shooting percentages, but the Magic were unable to win their division for the fourth straight year. Although the Miami Heat won the division, the Magic won 52 games, and finished as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, the Magic lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first-round of the playoffs. Howard led the NBA in technical fouls with 18 in the regular season, and received one-game suspensions after his 16th and 18th technicals.
Due to a lockout, the 2011–12 regular season was shortened to 66 games. Not long after the lockout ended, Howard, who was eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season, demanded a trade to the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks. Howard stated that although his preference was to remain in Orlando, he did not feel the Magic organization was doing enough to build a championship contender. He would later meet with Magic officials and agree to back off his trade demands, but stated that he also felt the team needed to make changes to the roster if they wanted to contend for a championship.
On January 12, 2012, Howard attempted an NBA regular season record 39 free throws against the Golden State Warriors. Howard entered the game making 42 percent of his free throws for the season and just below 60 percent for his career. The Warriors hacked Howard intentionally throughout the game, and he broke Wilt Chamberlain's regular season record of 34 set in 1962. (Shaquille O'Neal attempted 39 free throws in Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals.) Howard made 21 of the 39 attempts, and he finished with 45 points and 23 rebounds in the Magic's 117–109 victory. On January 24, 2012, Howard became the Magic's all-time scoring leader, surpassing Nick Anderson's 10,650 points.
On March 15, 2012, on the day of the trading deadline for the 2011–12 NBA season, Howard signed an amendment to his contract, waiving his right to opt out at the end of the season and committing to stay with the Magic through the 2012–13 season. He had previously asked to be traded to the New Jersey Nets, and the Magic were prepared to trade him had Howard not signed the amendment, to avoid losing him as a free agent. On April 5, Van Gundy said that he was informed by management that Howard wanted him fired. During the interview, the center walked up and hugged his coach, unaware that Van Gundy had confirmed a report that Howard denied.
On April 19, 2012, Howard's agent said that Howard would undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, and would miss the rest of the 2011–12 season, as well as the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. During the offseason, Howard again requested the Magic trade him to the Nets, who had relocated to Brooklyn. He intended to become free agent at the end of the 2012–13 season if he was not traded to Brooklyn.
Los Angeles Lakers (2012–present)
Howard took six months off from basketball after his April surgery, and only had the combined four weeks of training camp and preseason to prepare for the season. He played in just two preseason games, but was able to play in the 2012–13 season opener against the Dallas Mavericks. He had 19 points and 10 rebounds, but he was only 3-for-14 on free throws and fouled out; the Lakers lost 99–91. Still working himself into shape, Howard paced himself throughout the season on both offense and defense. On January 4, 2013, Howard injured his right shoulder in the second half of the Lakers' 107–102 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers when he got his arms tangled up with Caron Butler. He played through the injury in the next game against the Denver Nuggets, a 112–105 loss in which he tied a career high with 26 rebounds. However, he missed the next three games with a torn labrum. At the midpoint of the season, the Lakers were a disappointing 17–24. Howard had not been consistently dominant on defense, and was at times passive on offense. He was averaging 17.1 points on 58.2% shooting, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, but also 3.6 fouls a game with 3.2 turnovers while making only 50.4% of his free throws. The Los Angeles Times criticized his "ability to laugh off missed throws".
Many times Howard was upset that he was not getting the ball enough, and he felt that Kobe Bryant was shooting too much. Moving forward, Howard said he needed to "bring it" and dominate in more ways than just scoring. In the following game against Memphis, he had only two points and four rebounds in 14 minutes before he sat out the rest of the game after aggravating his shoulder injury. He returned the following game showing no ill effects from the injury. On January 30, Howard left the Phoenix Suns game early after re-aggravating his shoulder. He was listed as day to day and missed subsequent games. Bryant said that Howard "worries too much" and "doesn't want to let anyone down", and urged him to play through the pain when Pau Gasol was sidelined with a torn plantar fascia. Howard returned the next game after commenting that Bryant was "not a doctor, I'm not a doctor. That's his opinion."
During the All-Star break, Howard committed to having a better second half. An avid candy lover, Howard adopted a healthier diet to get into better shape to anchor the Lakers' defense and run D'Antoni's preferred pick and rolls. He looked fresher after the break. Still, on February 23, Howard said he was "not even close" to physically being where he wanted to be. Coach Mike D'Antoni attributed his conditioning to his difficulty with running the pick and roll with Steve Nash, a play the coach had expected would be a staple for the team. The Lakers were 8–2 after the All-Star break, passing Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and Howard had 10 straight games with 12 or more rebounds while averaging 15.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. In his first game back in Orlando on March 12, Howard scored a season-high 39 points and had 16 rebounds in a 106–97 Lakers win. Booed throughout the game, he made 25-of-39 free throws, setting Lakers records for free throws made and attempted while tying his NBA record for attempts.[a] Howard made 16-of-20 free throws when he was fouled intentionally by the Magic. With Howard anchoring the Lakers defense and his improved overall play, the team made the playoffs, but they were swept in the opening round 4–0 by San Antonio. Howard was ejected in Game 4 with over nine minutes left in the third quarter after receiving his second technical foul.
Howard finished the season with his lowest scoring average since his second year in the NBA, and he made under 50% of his free throws for the second straight year. However, he was the league leader in rebounding and ranked second in field goal percentage. Although he was recovering from his back surgery, he only missed six games all season—all due to his torn labrum. Howard was named to the All-NBA Third Team after five consecutive first-team honors. He was scheduled to be a free agent in the summer, and could receive a maximum contract of five-year for $118 million from the Lakers or four years for $88 million from other teams.