NOLA, 2008’s dunk contest provided breakout venue for Dwight Howard
“Every time I come in (Smoothie King Center), I get chills just thinking about it.” DWIGHT HOWARD, Rockets center
Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard has been selected an NBA All-Star eight times, All-NBA seven times, Defensive Player of the Year three times. He’s won an Olympic gold medal. And he’s played in the NBA Finals.
However, Howard will never forget Feb. 16, 2008, in New Orleans. That’s when he won the NBA’s slam dunk competition in memorable fashion.
Howard participated wearing a Superman outfit — then went on to dunk like him.
“That’s probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA, is being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans,” said Howard, who declined an invitation to participate in this year’s contest. “The fans were amazing. Every time I come in (Smoothie King Center), I get chills just thinking about it.”
During the finals of the ’08 contest, Howard pulled off his Orlando jersey to reveal the Superman costume. Starting near the top of the key, he ran toward the basket, leaped high, caught a lob pass from teammate Jameer Nelson and threw the ball into the rim.
“That was another level when you talk about the dunk contest,” NBA dunking legend Darryl Dawkins said. “That was past the dunk, because his hand never hit the rim.”
Howard had another very impressive dunk in the first round, although it was tame by comparison. He tossed the ball off the back of the backboard while standing out of bounds, caught it, and dunked it with his left hand while his head remained on the back side of the backboard.
Howard beat a field that included defending champion Gerald Green, Rudy Gay and Jamario Moon, who is from nearby Pearl River, Miss.
“The dunk contest that we had in the back before the actual dunk contest was better than the dunk contest,” he said of the warmups. “I wish people would have seen that.”
Howard’s dunk, and the ’08 contest itself, was said to give a hopeful, if not rejuvenating, feeling for the future of the dunk contest at the time. Since 2000, when Vince Carter did his ridiculous cookie-jar dunk, in which he stuffed his arm down into the rim, no star player had participated, a trend that started earlier.
Howard acknowledged it would be great to have big-name players such as LeBron James participating, but said he understands.
“A lot of people see dunks in games, and they say (the player) should do the dunk contest,” Howard said.
“It’s a different atmosphere in games; you’ve got the adrenaline going. You have the teammates out there. You’re getting loose and up and down the court.
“Dunk contest is totally different. It’s just you, the basketball and the rim. You have to build up your own adrenaline. And not a lot of people are dunk-contest dunkers.”
Howard had been going by “Superman” while with the Magic, his team at the time, much to the chagrin of Shaquille O’Neal, who went by that moniker while playing for the Magic in the 1990s.
“My teammates used to call me ‘Superman’ in the locker room because of (rapper) Soldier Boy’s little Superman dance,” Howard said. “And I did do crazy stuff in the locker room and at practice, dunking on guys, lifting crazy amounts of weight.”
So his teammates suggested Howard wear a cape in the contest, since he was always flying around on the court.
“I was like, ‘No, I’m going to look silly,’ ” he said.
However, after much urging, he sent his manager for a Superman costume.
“He found a full-body outfit,” Howard said. “I couldn’t wear that; it had boots.”
So they cut much of the bottom part of the costume off and, of course, kept the cape.