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It was just over five years ago when I had the opportunity to interview NBA superstar Dwight Howard. At that point, he was in his third season after going straight to the pros out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. The Orlando Magic chose the 6-11 center with the overall number one pick during the 2004 NBA Draft.
Howard was also very outspoken as a young Christian man who wanted to make a big mark on the league, as a player and as a believer. But about a year after my interview with Howard, it was revealed that he had fathered a son with his (now ex-) girlfriend. This caused a firestorm on both sides of the faith and sports debate. Many Christians were disappointed that the outspoken athlete had made such a public mistake. Some naysayers on the non-Christian side mockingly high-fived Howard’s actions or, even worse, called him a hypocrite.
With that little bit of history out of the way and with the NBA season tentatively scheduled to finally tip-off later this month, I thought it might be interesting to share you the full transcript of that interview from five years ago. I’m actively pursuing an interview with Howard, but for now, you can read this archived conversation with Howard, who has been reportedly attending a large non-denominational church in Orlando (and in fact was baptized last year in the Atlantic Ocean).
Here are some of the profound things Howard had to say about faith, family and destiny:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your childhood growing up in Atlanta.
Dwight Howard: It was interesting. My dad started working there during the last year of my high school. In the beginning, he was a state trooper and a policeman and he also took the time out to coach track and field for our school. He also did basketball. He was still there as a father. My mom has always been there. They were the strongest people I’ve ever seen dealing with what they had to deal with and my mom losing seven kids (to miscarriages). I saw how they overcame that. It was tough but my mom, she was strong willed and she overcame it.
Bonham: Wasn’t your dad a state trooper for a while?
Howard: Yeah, it was crazy. He told me some horror stories and about the times he could have been killed and God spared his life and just some of the situations he had to go through as a cop. It was tough. A lot of people in the world don’t really care too much for police officers but he was a great cop. It was tough having a cop for a dad because everybody doesn’t really like them. But my dad was a people person. He always gave people second chances. Instead of giving them tickets he let them go because he was a regular human being too. He just had a job in law enforcement.
Bonham: Your mom had some issues with her pregnancies before you were born. How has that impacted you as a young adult?
Howard: I’m really thankful to be alive. If you get to know me, I’m a person that’s always smiling and always joyful and I’ve been that way since I was born because of the struggles I went through. I was supposed to be number eight that died so I’m always thankful. My mom and dad have always been there. We prayed almost every morning. We had a great foundation at home and it carried on over to school and it carried on over to basketball and it will help me for the rest of my life.
Bonham: When did you know basketball would be in your long-term future?
Howard: Growing up, I played about every sport imaginable except soccer and hockey. I’ve always had a passion for basketball. I remember actually playing basketball when I was two or three years old. The time I knew that I could really take my game to the next level, there were two different occurrences. It was my first year of AAU and my team got third place in the nation. We did real good that year. I saw the guys that I was playing against and I felt that the next year I could be just as good as those guys if not better. After that had finished, I told my dad that I wanted to go to the NBA and I wanted to become the best basketball player. He was like, ‘Okay, well if you want to do it, I’m going to do everything I can to help you get there. It was just the little stuff that I was always faithful over. We weren’t poor, but we didn’t have a lot of money. Stuff like shoes, I really took advantage of the shoes I got. I remember when I was 12 years old I had two pairs of shoes. I had some white Pro Wings and some black Pro Wings. Those were like $10 shoes. I wore those for almost two years. We were just faithful over the small stuff. When I was 15 years old, I was playing a 2-on-2 game against one of the school’s best players and the head coach. I was a lot smaller than the other guy but my team won and my teammate told me, “You know what? You’re going to go into the NBA out of high school. Watch.” After then, I just put in the work.
Bonham: Do you sometimes feel like you’ve been destined to reach this level of success?
Howard: I know my calling on my life. I found that out at a young age. I was 13 or 14 when I found that out. I know that the NBA is just a way for me to tell people about God—you know that He is real. My purpose in life, my goal for the NBA is to preach God’s word—not just try to beat everybody over the head with a Bible but just being a good example and always conducting myself in a Christian-like manner.
Bonham: What led to your decision to go pro out of high school?
Howard: I always wanted to come out of high school and go into the NBA. I felt that I was ready. I prepared myself physically and spiritually to become eligible for the draft. I just felt that it was my time and God wanted me to do it. So if He says I’ve got to do something, I have to do it. They were talking about me being the number-one or number-two pick my whole senior year. I wrote my goal down at the beginning of my senior year that I was going to go number one in the draft. That was my goal and I wasn’t going to stop until I got it.
Bonham: When did you first make a commitment to Christ?
Howard: We grew up in the church but just because you grow up in the church, that doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I made a commitment when I was 13 or 14. I was dating a young lady and I thought I was in love with her. She broke my heart and I was looking for love in the wrong places instead of looking for love with God. That was one instance when I knew I had to get my life straight. Then a couple of years later, I was back to my old ways and I broke my leg and that’s when I got closer to Christ.
Bonham: What were some of your spiritual concerns going into the NBA at such a young age?
Howard: I knew that one of the biggest challenges was going to be stepping up and standing out. I knew that I was going into a league with a lot of grown men. They have problems. They’ve got families. They don’t want to be listening to an 18-year old that just came out of high school. They were probably thinking I was immature and didn’t know a lot. But that was the biggest challenge, just knowing when to talk to people about Christ and when not to, and not try to overbear people with Jesus.
Bonham: How do you deal with temptations that typically present themselves in the NBA?
Howard: The flesh is one of the weakest things, especially in a man. That’s the biggest temptation that we all face. The only way for me being a Christian, me being a human, to not follow through with temptation, is to run from it and to stay away from those types of situations.
Bonham: Have your outspoken ways ever caused you any trouble?
Howard: It has been (a problem) a little bit. But all I do is, you know, I just be myself. I’ve had some people that felt they couldn’t come around me because they probably thought I was going to try to beat them over the head with Christ. But the ones that have been able to be around me for a little bit, they know that I’m still a human being and I like to have fun and enjoy myself and make people laugh.
Bonham: What do you enjoy about working with kids through your foundation?
Howard: I like talking to kids and telling people about my testimony and that they don’t have to be afraid. There’s a lot of stuff I do in the community that I do on my own. I really like speaking to kids and going to youth events. I also like giving back. A lot of schools down here can’t even take their kids on field trips so I just try to provide them with some money so they can give their kids a chance to see things.
Bonham: What is your message to young guys that might look up to you as a role model?
Howard: The biggest thing is always being around people that are going to lift you up and not bring you down. That’s why I prayed for God to send me some good friends. He’s done that. I don’t really have a lot of friends, but the friends I do have are great.
Bonham: How do you want to use your platform to affect lives?
Howard: I’m down to earth. I’m laid back. I just like to make sure people smile. Everybody needs to realize that it doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are, you still can be a Christian and live for God. It’s not easy but that’s why we have God’s word and He forgives us when we do something we shouldn’t be doing. You know, God sent His son to die for us and He paid that sacrifice so you can go to Heaven.