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NEW YORK—The 2004 NBA Draft’s number one pick, Dwight Howard, is younger than I am. In his brief interactions with the NBA, the Southwest Atlanta Christian High School grad has already mused about superimposing a crucifix on the NBA logo, pleaded for a future with superstar Tracy McGrady, and confidently rebuked those critics who question his lack of edge and toughness.
Of course, back in reality, the logo isn’t going to be changed, Orlando Magic general manager John Weisbrod ’91 has since traded away McGrady for various Houston Rockets, and Howard, for what it’s worth by way of “toughness,” still wears braces.
Not the best of league baptisms for the next Kevin Garnett—or, maybe, Kwame Brown.
But still, when Dwight Howard’s name was called out by NBA Commissioner David Stern, it was, understandably, a veritable Howard-fest. And the loudest voice came not from the stage, or from the so-called Green Room, or even from his mother or father.
It came from Row H.
MY COUSIN DWIGHT
Dwight Howard’s cousin turned to me and smiled.
Well, he turned to all of us, really—me and my three buddies from high school in Row J, Section 300, along with that weird guy on my right who came by himself—but he looked directly at me, I felt, and wouldn’t stop baring his teeth, grinning like a million bucks. I’m all for being friendly—especially with the kin of potential NBA royalty—but what the hell was wrong with this guy?
“We’ll see ya’ll on MTV Cribs,” he joked.
And then, all of a sudden, it hit me.
“His family probably has a million dollars now,” I realized, repeating the insight aloud to my friends, in childlike awe. “I guess that’s what you do when you win the lottery.” Literally.
I turned my eyes to the “D. HOWARD” after the white number one on the big draft board in Madison Square Garden, and then, slowly, back to the aforementioned Howard in front of me. Commissioner David Stern, meanwhile, was announcing that Rafael Araujo had been somehow selected by the Toronto Raptors. And this Howard was, predictably, still smiling.
“Christ,” my friends agreed. “Christ.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
I knew pretty much everyone who knew Dwight at this point; who was related, went to school with him. All of us Section 300’ers did. It was because of the fact that they had all universally jumped out of their seats and embraced one another when The Name had finally been called by Orlando. The buzz had quickly begun to circulate throughout the audience: Who is that? Who’s this guy? Who’s…signing autographs?
Oh yeah, many of them also began signing autographs and taking photos all around MSG, upon fan request. My buddy Juan hilariously decided to fall in the impromptu line and get the dirty basketball we were playing with prior to the Draft signed by what later turned out to be Dwight Howard’s younger brother. Heck, even the elder Mr. Howard, Dwight’s dad, inexplicably took photos and signed programs himself.
I don’t get it either.
But again, none of those characters matched up to his cousin, who entertained all of Section 300 throughout the night.
“Oh, Lordy!” he randomly yelled, wrapping his arms around his female relatives in front of us. He went on to call Dwight’s voicemail and leave a congratulatory message, handing the phone to the random folks in front of us who wished him well.
My friends and I were well on our way to imagining him as one of those guys sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner or playing Madden in a white, plush living room in the inevitable MTV Cribs: Dwight Howard.
IT’S MORPHIN’ TIME
But just 30 minutes ago, I remembered, he had been nothing more than Some Dude. And I, amazingly, knew him.
Well, more accurately, he was a guy who was shaking off the molting exoskeleton of Some Dude—and I’d said one word to him. But the larger truth at hand was yes, he had evolved before my very eyes—like a snazzily-dressed caterpillar, or perhaps some kind of Pokemon—into something more. It was startling.
He was visibly happier. His clothes fit better. He was dancing, cheering, clapping like he knew that he himself was better than Emeka Okafor. And hey, he probably became someone now really, really wealthy. Or, more precisely, someone never again resigned to sitting two chairs in front of me and my friends.
(At this point in time, notably, my friend Kevin and I had taken to yelling “TIMMERMANS” at the top of our lungs at moments of tense, dead silence, championing the cause of 6’11” Dutch Notre Dame center Tom Timmermans. Tom Timmermans wasn’t going to get drafted. We knew this.)
“Oh,” I remembered again, laughing this time. “Right, a millionaire.”
One, in particular, who surely deserved to smile. And so the boisterous yet unnamed Howard relative was grinning, still, because his family was tangibly richer. But you could also easily tell that he was just truly thrilled—maybe even offensively so—for his own flesh and blood. I could imagine myself in his shoes. I mean, his cousin had just been picked over the Connecticut golden boy, Okafor. (“He’s so intelligent,” analysts must have blathered on about Okafor at least 50 separate times.) This man’s cousin—by all accounts, one of the more genuine and maybe naïve 6’11” high school graduates ever to cross MSG on Draft Night—shook David Stern’s hand as the number one draft pick.
And now, he had me imagining that part from Duck Tales where Scrooge McDuck jackknifes into his mansion’s pool of gold coins. Except, this time, Scrooge was 6’11”, African American, wearing braces, and had reportedly mused about putting Jesus’ cross right over the cutout of Jerry West on the NBA logo.
“Christ,” my friends repeated. “Christ.”
—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Draft Diary, Part Two will continue to offend next Friday.
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