The Jordan Effect is still potent, even when applied to a 13-year NBA veteran with a Hall of Fame-type resume.
Charlotte Hornets owner and basketball icon Michael Jordan phoned his new center, Dwight Howard, Thursday. By the end of that chat, Howard – who sometimes calls himself Superman – was soaring.
“I’d just done a 2 ½-hour workout. After I was done talking to him, I wanted to jump back into the gym,” Howard said Friday, in his first interview with a Charlotte media outlet since learning Tuesday night he’d been traded from the Atlanta Hawks to the Hornets.
“That’s how he motivated me.”
That’s promising for a 31-year-old with abundant mileage. He has played more than 33,000 NBA minutes since then-high school grad Howard was chosen first overall in the 2004 draft by the Orlando Magic.
Howard can be counted on to average double figures in points and rebounds and to get his team to the playoffs. Ten times his teams have made postseason appearances.
But except for an NBA Finals appearance against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 – the Magic lost that series 4-1 – his teams have been good, not great.
Jordan, who won six NBA titles as a Chicago Bulls guard, certainly got Howard revved with whatever he said Thursday.
“You’re talking about the greatest basketball player to ever play,” Howard said of Jordan. “For him to call you on the phone and say, ‘I believe in you!’ ”
The Hornets missed the playoffs last season, finishing a disappointing 36-46. Much of that decline from 48 victories the previous season was about weak defense.
The Hornets had no rim-protector after center Roy Hibbert hurt his knee in a season-opening victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Howard, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, can provide that shot-blocking presence and rebounding, along with low-post scoring in the Hornets’ 1-in/4-out offensive sets.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford has a seven-season relationship with Howard from when Clifford was an assistant coach with the Magic and the Lakers. Clifford has said one of Howard’s major assets is his basketball intelligence, and that he will make the Hornets better organized and efficient, particularly at the defensive end.
“We do have a lot of history,” Howard said of Clifford, “and I’m excited about the opportunity for him to coach me again.”
Howard views this trade with mixed emotions. He’s clearly excited about the prospect of a fresh start in Charlotte. However, he is disappointed playing in his hometown lasted just one season.
Howard grew up in Atlanta’s College Park neighborhood and attended high school at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. He was honored at a luncheon Friday by the Urban League of Greater Atlanta for his service work.
“I witnessed a lot of different things over there. I knew I didn’t want to stay in that position,” Howard said of College Park. “Nothing wrong with the people there, but we have to inspire them. By me getting out and showing there is a better way, that’s motivation for a lot of kids.”
Howard’s D-12 charitable foundation is centered on youth programs. Wherever he has played – Orlando, Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta – he’s been active in those communities. A frequent theme at Friday’s Urban League luncheon was youth empowerment.
“Basketball doesn’t last forever, but changing lives, that’s something I can look back on and say, ‘This is better than any slam dunk, any blocked shot, any amount of points I’ve had,’ ” Howard said.
“Watching somebody grow from a child to a young man or woman and making something of themselves.”
He suggested moving home last summer was overdue and too short a stay.
“I had just gotten a beautiful place in Suwanee, Ga. That’s the sad part – I finally started reconnecting with a lot of people I grew up with,” Howard reflected.
“But life has its seasons. My seasons here as a basketball player might be over, but what I plan to do here in this community, that will never end.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell