V Exclusive! Dwight Howard ‘Nice Guys Don’t Finish Last’ (PG.2)

A FEW HOURS AFTER the workout, Howard walks into a studio for a photo shoot sporting a big smile. “Hello, everybody,” he bellows. “How are y’all doing?” He shakes everyone’s hands and settles into a barber’s chair for a quick shape- up. After eating two slices of pepperoni pizza and a plate of hot wings for lunch, he reluctantly sits for a makeup artist. “Whoa, that’s a lot of makeup,” he’ll say later. He jokes that he looks like Arsenio Hall during the drag scene in Coming to America. That doesn’t stop him from hamming it up duringthe shoot.

Afterward, he finds me. “You shouldn’t be ashamed that you used that band,” he says. “Don’t be ashamed of the purple band.” Howard will spend the rest of his summer improving both the physical and mental aspects of his game. He says that he solicits guidance from a veteran player who he doesn’t want to name, and is also getting professional help. “I have been talking to this guy—psychologist, psychiatrist, whatever you want to call him—for a year,” he says. “His [advice to me] was to free my mind. That’s the biggest thing for me: not worrying about what people say about my shot or free throws and just being in the moment.”

So, can Dwight Howard change? Can he develop a killer instinct and stop being so gosh-darn nice? “Behavior is changeable,” says Dr. John F. Murray, a noted sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla. He thinks Howard is too sensitive to his teammates’ psyche. “One of the best things you can do is create enemies in a competitive way for the good of the team. You don’t want to be in a popularity contest. It’s not a political election. It’s a sport.”

Howard has been known to show some glimpses of a mean streak. “One game [in high school], we were getting our behinds whipped,” Alexander remembers. “Coach said something to Dwight. We got back into the game, and he was like, ‘Give me the ball.’ He had this mean look on his face. I can’t believe he said it with a mean voice and frown on his face. It was the funniest thing, because he was always laughing.”

Hakeem Olajuwon wants Howard to take it a step further. “He told me that I was being a ninja. He wants me to be a mercenary. A mercenary doesn’t care, has no regard for life and will kill and destroy anything,” he says. Howard smiles and tries to suppress his laugh. “A ninja will only kill [his target]. A mercenary will kill everyone in the room.”

He bursts out in laughter. “I have to be a mercenary.”

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