Dwight Howard’s arrival in Houston signals the arrival of one of the most dominant players in basketball, along with one of the most polarizing personalities in sports. Here at Red94, we are embracing the drama of Superman’s first season as a Rocket with a weekly column: “DwightLife.”
Are the Houston Rockets truly Dwight Howard’s team?
Heading into the season, that was a little bit of an unresolved question, but we may be getting closer to an answer. Full disclosure: the idea for this column sprang from reading this Ballerball.com parody of sports punditry and realizing that I truly didn’t know if Dwight Howard or James Harden was the “Batman” on this team.
The Howard-Harden (Harden-Howard?) pairing is a puzzle when it comes to leadership. Harden has a claim on the alpha-dog role for revitalizing the team. Howard has a claim by virtue of a much more distinguished career.
Both men strike me as guys who have assumed leadership roles not because of their personalities, but because their talent requires it. That’s not to say they don’t both say the right things in public and lead by example in practice. By all accounts, they do. But they don’t exude the stabilizing confidence of guys like Chris Paul or Tim Duncan.
On the court, they effectively are in charge of opposite ends of the game, with Howard taking responsibility for the defense and Harden taking responsibility for the offense. However, this arrangement also means that neither one of them truly accepts full responsibility when the team loses. The mark of a leader (and a superstar) is often to share the credit (“we”) after success and to own the blame (“I”) after failure.
Following the loss to Phoenix, which featured the dismantling of James Harden by P.J. Tucker, the Beard was nowhere to be found when the media came around, so Dwight faced the cameras. While he never used the first-person singular pronoun to take blame for the loss (it wasn’t his fault, but shouldering the responsibility is what superstars typically do), at least he was willing to put his face on it.
After Michael Jordan, it became de rigueur to assign the title of Alpha Dog to the most reliable option for scoring–the closer. Leadership was boiled down to the ability to score buckets under the greatest amount of pressure possible. Of course, before Jordan, scoring was not the test. Consider Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar; the skyhook was the surest two-points in NBA history, but Magic was the star of Showtime. By the Jordan Test, Harden is clearly this team’s “Batman.” He will always take the last shot, whether he should or not.
But leadership is more complex than being an automatic point-machine. It means personifying Harry Truman’s words: “The buck stops here.” It means being the guy who will be lampooned on SportsCenter if Houston underachieves this season. It means sitting in front of cameras taking uncomfortable questions about a loss to a lottery team. It means taking criticism on the chin, because he can take it.
Superman is Batman.