Scott Fowler

Panthers’ Cam Newton, Hornets’ Dwight Howard: 9 crazy similarities, 1 big difference

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wore these “Superman” cleats in pregame warmups in Tampa, Fla., in 2013. New Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard has his own pair of basketball shoes with a Superman logo that he has worn in an actual game before.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wore these “Superman” cleats in pregame warmups in Tampa, Fla., in 2013. New Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard has his own pair of basketball shoes with a Superman logo that he has worn in an actual game before. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

I am not sure yet how good or bad of a thing this is, but there’s no doubt it is true. There are a remarkable number of similarities between Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and new Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard – and one key difference. First, let’s take a closer look at nine ways they are very alike.

1. The “Superman” nickname. Both Howard and Newton have gone with the “Superman” nickname for much of their careers, going so far as to wear the “Superman” logo (in Newton’s case during pregame warmups) or the “Superman” logo plus a flowing cape (in Howard’s famous 2008 All-Star Game dunk).

dwightsuperslam
Wearing a Superman costume, including a cape, Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard flew toward the basket during the basketball slam dunk contest in 2008. Eric Gay AP

Newton has also mimicked the old Superman trick of pulling off his streetclothes to reveal an imaginary “S” logo after touchdowns for years, and the move is now imitated everywhere. Both men have worn custom-made shoes with the Superman logo.

Said Howard at the news conference announcing him as a Hornet last month: “There are two supermen here in Charlotte in Cam Newton and myself.”

2. The background. “Listen, me and Cam are from the same place in Atlanta,” Howard said. And that’s true – they both count Atlanta as their hometown. Both also had fathers who were very involved in their athletic careers. Howard, now 31, is three years older than Newton, so the two didn’t know each other in their teen years. “He’s a little bit younger than me, so growing up I didn’t really see him,” Howard said.

Both cheered for Atlanta sports teams, too. Newton idolized Michael Vick growing up while Vick was the Falcons quarterback. Howard used to wear Atlanta Hawks paraphernalia all the time before eventually joining the Hawks for real – a homecoming that worked out poorly and only lasted for a year before the Hawks gave up and traded Howard to Charlotte.

3. The career arc. Newton and Howard were both No. 1 overall draft picks (Newton in 2011, Howard in 2004). Their high-water mark as a pro? They have both finished in second place once.

Howard’s Orlando Magic made the NBA Finals in 2009 before losing to the L.A. Lakers in five games. Newton’s Panthers blew through the 2015 season with a 15-1 record and sprinted to the Super Bowl before laying a big egg against Denver.

Newton, who has played six pro seasons compared with Howard’s 13, boasts the only league MVP award out of these two. But Howard has been the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year three times and is an eight-time NBA all-star.

4. The build. The reason Howard and Newton both can pull off the “Superman” thing is that they are both huge men, often described admiringly as “freaks” even by their pro-athlete brethren. At 6-5 and 245 pounds (at least), Newton is the size of an NFL tight end playing quarterback and has run over a lot of defensive backs in his day. Howard, at 6-11 and 265, is a ridiculously sculpted man among men in the NBA post wars.

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Dwight Howard wore a pair of Superman-themed basketball shoes in 2008 while playing for the Orlando Magic. Phelan M. Ebenhack AP

5. The description. Howard and Newton have invariably been referred to as “big kids” for most of their lives. They are both regarded as very genuine and giving in their community work – particularly when it refers to kids, who they each both bond with easily. (Newton’s “Sunday giveaways” of TD balls to kids long ago took on a life of their own in Charlotte.)

Their dazzling smiles and natural charisma propel them through a lot of situations, and in every crowd they become a very tall magnet for all sorts of people who simply want to be near them. They each have also made several “Best-Dressed Athlete” lists, so style is important to both of them.

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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (center) did a Superman pose for The Observer in 2013 along with some of the kids that he had given a “touchdown ball” to during his career. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

6. The immaturity. When you’re described so often as a “big kid,” that has a downside as well – people sometimes think you are high maintenance and that you have never grown up. Newton has given some very pouty press conferences after losses, most famously at the Super Bowl, and admits to being a poor loser (which he considers a point of pride). Howard has been criticized over the years for everything from inconsistent effort to a lack of authenticity.

Charlotte Hornets' new center happy to be reuniting with former coach and being one of two Supermen in Charlotte

7. The yearly salary. They aren’t quite in the Steph Curry range, but they aren’t that far off. Both Newton and Howard will make slightly over $23 million this year.

8. The lack of pro rings. While Newton did win an NCAA championship in college during a perfect season at Auburn, Howard jumped straight to the pros back when that was still allowed by the NBA and didn’t have that chance. Neither man has ever won a championship in the pros, which Howard contends will be a driving force for both of them.

“We kind of have that same attitude,” Howard said. “We love to win, but we want to have fun. We both hate losing. I’ve seen a couple interviews where he was really upset about losing, and we both have that same fire and drive, where on the court or on the field, we’re going to give everything we got.”

cam-von
One problem with calling yourself Superman: you get made fun of sometimes when you fail. Denver’s Von Miller (58) mimicked Cam Newton’s touchdown celebration in 2012 after he sacked Newton. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

9. The quick starts. Newton threw for 422 yards in his very first NFL game as a rookie. And here’s a warning to Hornets fans – if Howard goes for 15 points and 20 rebounds in his first-ever Charlotte game, don’t be surprised and don’t expect it every night. Howard has had a lot longer career and cycled through a lot more teams than Newton, and in every case he has performed very well on opening night.

At Orlando, as a rookie in 2004, Howard had 12 points and 10 rebounds. He went for 19 points and 10 rebounds with the L.A. Lakers in 2012; 17 points and 26 rebounds in his first game with Houston in 2013 and then 11 points and 19 rebounds with Atlanta in 2016.

The big difference

OK, so those are the nine similarities I can come up with. Here’s No. 10, though, and it’s a big difference. The Hornets will be Howard’s fifth NBA team. He has been a champion at wearing out his welcome over the past several years, so much so that the Hornets basically got him in a trade for Atlanta almost for free (giving up only two bench players who are in the twilight of their careers as well).

Stan Van Gundy, Orlando’s coach at the time, told reporters publicly in 2012 that Howard was trying hard to get him fired. Howard interrupted Van Gundy to give him a hug during this press conference, which made it one of the most awkward in sports history. Respected Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke campaigned for years for the Lakers to trade for Howard. When they finally did, Howard lasted only a year in L.A., and Plaschke was as disillusioned as everyone else.

“Take a hike, Dwight,” Plaschke wrote as Howard departed for Houston. “And don’t let your cape hit you on the way out.”

Those sorts of sarcastic lines have followed Howard around for the past several years. His numbers remain good – he averaged 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds last season for Atlanta – but something just doesn’t click. Time and again, the idea of Dwight Howard has been far better than the reality of Dwight Howard. The Hawks gave up on him so thoroughly that he was benched for more than 75 percent of the time in the fourth quarter in the playoff series loss to Washington.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford is considered “The Howard whisperer,” having spent time with the big man in both Orlando and L.A. as an assistant coach. He believes he can mix Howard into the Hornets’ chemistry without major problems. But who knows, really?

howard-intro
Dwight Howard posed with his new No. 12 Charlotte Hornets jersey at a press conference in late June announcing his trade to the team. Howard said at the press conference there were now “two supermen” in Charlotte, referring to himself and Cam Newton. Scott Fowler sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

Newton, on the other hand, has been with only one NFL team and it’s conceivable he will end his career in Charlotte. He starts his seventh season in 2017 and is signed through the 2020 season. The Panthers would never consider trading him at this point – he’s 28 and should be in his prime – but if they did they would get a king’s ransom for him.

It was in late 2016 that ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith warned that Newton was verging on becoming the “Dwight Howard” of the NFL. It wasn’t a compliment. Smith’s point was meandering, but it had something to do with whether either man’s teammates trusted them enough.

So is Cam Newton the NFL’s Dwight Howard? Or could Dwight Howard have a career resurrection and become the NBA’s Cam Newton in the twilight of his career?

Yes, there really are two supermen in Charlotte. Howard is right. It’s impossible to say yet whether this town is big enough for the both of them.

It would help an awful lot if they win. 

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton told players in Saturday's 7-on-7 football tournament at Providence Day School that football was his only option, which led to his career success.

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