Dwight Howard is not only an NBA BMOC — big man on court — but he is also a BMIC — big man in commercials, with marketing deals that include McDonald's, Gatorade, T-Mobile, AirTran, adidas and EA Sports. But for a 6'11", 265 pound athlete regarded as one of the strongest players in the league, it is his off-court community endeavors and religious fortitude that are really proving to be the strength of the man.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted September 26, 2010)
Dwight Howard is a big man with broad shoulders and a robust smile. Like his nickname, Superman, Howard has proven to be a solid presence for such marketers as McDonald's, Gatorade, T-Mobile, AirTran, adidas and EA Sports. It was for the latter two partnerships that Howard, a four-time all-star center for the Orlando Magic, spent several days in New York to talk about hoops, highlights and, not always by choice, the Miami Heat's new triumvirate of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Not so ironically, Howard has done T-Mobile spots with Wade and a McDonald's commercial with James.
On Sept. 22, he was at the NBA Store to help unveil new jerseys from adidas. On Sept. 23, he was center of attention as EA Sports had a coming out party for a pair of hoops videogames: NBA Elite 11 with Kevin Durant on the cover (scheduled for release early in the NBA season) and new version of the classic NBA Jam (due to hit retail Oct. 5). EA Sports is especially keen on the advancements and enhancements of its NBA Elite game (including an enhanced dribbling system, player "sweet spots," more defensive strategies) and is putting strong marketing support and PR awareness behind the launch. Not coincidentally, rival 2K's NBA 2K11, which features hoops legend Michael Jordan on the cover and in the game, also hits retail Oct. 5.
For all the time he spends on the court and in marketing efforts, the 24-year-old Howard has proven to be a strong role model with kids and community leaders. Among other endeavors, he started The Dwight Howard Foundation, which seeks to help at-risk children worldwide. Even with a gold medal from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and two Defensive Player of the Year honors, Howard is perhaps more defined by the fact that he is a four-time recipient of the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award for his "tireless work in the community."
Howard also strives to be a role model in the religious community. Perhaps the most visible, and equally unusual, example of this came during the Slam Dunk event at the 2007 NBA All-Star Game. During one attempt, Howard was able to dunk the ball while also placing a sticker emblazoned with his face and the words "All things through Christ Phil 4:13" on the backboard about 12 1/2 feet off the floor. Howard, who was the overall No. 1 draft pick of the Magic in 2004 (out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy), didn't win that year (losing to Gerald Green), but he came back to take the 2008 Slam Dunk crown when, in an iconic sports moment, he donned a Superman cape and "S" shirt and virtually flew like the Man of Steel.
At the EA Sports event, Howard spent time playing Madden NFL 11 while talking to NYSportsJournalism about the values, virtues and challenges of the upcoming NBA season.
NYSportsJournalism: You've been busy in New York these past few days. How has that gone?
Dwight Howard: It's been great. We were at the NBA Store [on Sept. 22] with the new adidas NBA jerseys. Now we're doing the EA Sports event. It's been a lot of fun.
NYSJ: How has the weather been? We wouldn't want the heat to get to you.
DH: [Laughs.] Good joke.
NYSJ: I wanted to get to the real question without being too obvious. What about the Heat in 2010-11?
DW: All of the teams in the Eastern Conference have gotten a lot better. We're looking forward to playing all of them.
NYSJ: What about Miami, specifically, through?
DW: Another question about the Heat!? Let's go to something else — soccer, baseball. [Laughs.] Honestly, we have to wait until the season starts to be calling someone the champion. It's going to be hard for [those] three guys to each score 25 points a night, which is what they do. There will have to be adjustments. I understand the hype. You try to get the best players for your team. We added Chris [Duhon], Quentin [Richardson]. We have a strong team. But you need the right chemistry. That's important when you are going for a championship. I'm looking forward to playing them. I know them off the court but on the court, what [Miami] did in getting them, that is good motivation, extra motivation to play against them.
NYSJ: You have a strong connection with the brands you endorse, but do you feel it's equally important to have a strong connection with fans and consumers?
DH: Yes. it's about having a good balance. I try to balance playing basketball [during the season] and training during the summer, but also having fun with fans, have fun with people and just live. Love your life. And I love being able to do what I do.
NYSJ: Has your character in a videogame from a rival of EA Sports that I won't name in this setting [2K] recovered from the pulled hamstring that Charles Barkley caused last year in a T-Mobile commercial?
DH: [Laughs.] He's doing a lot better. No pulled hamstrings or anything. And I have no injuries, either. I'm looking forward to having a great season.
NYSJ: Have you tried the new EA Sports hoops games yet?
DH: I like them. NBA Jam reminds me of the great videogames back in the day. Back at my house, I have NBA Jam on my Super Nintendo. So I'm playing it all the time.
NYSJ: You're making the rounds for EA Sports now, but what's next? Anything in the works with Dwyane Wade or LeBron again?
DH: I have some new adidas shoes coming out so there will be some [marketing] for that. There are other opportunities coming up. Can't talk about it. Very exciting. But I can't wait.
NYSJ: What are your thoughts on the new NBA Revolution 30 jerseys, which adidas said are 30% lighter and supposed to dry twice as fast as the previous jerseys?
DH: I like the new jerseys. I've already played in them. They spent four years coming up with these jerseys, and they've done an excellent job. I'm not going to sweat 30% less, it's just going to feel that way. [Laughs.] We had an event at the NBA Store and it was a lot of fun hanging out with all the people and having fun. I usually don't get an opportunity like that, especially in New York, with so many people and so many things happening.
"When the game starts they are going to boo us. But before the game they usually show me some love. It's all good."
NYSJ: Were you able to walk around New York at all?
DH: [Laughs.] It's tough to walk around getting recognized and all that. It's not like the next time I'll [probably be in New York] at Madison Square Garden where I'm there to beat the Knicks. It's been a lot fun. I enjoy life. I enjoy all the blessings that come along with playing basketball and being part of the NBA.
NYSJ: What are you looking forward to this season?
DH: I'm looking forward to having a great season. This year is going to be very good for the Magic. I've been training hard during the off-season to get ready.
NYSJ: Do you see what happened during the summer good for the NBA, with people talking about basketball during baseball season, during the start of the NFL season?
DH: That's it. Everybody feels excited to be part of the new season, with all of the changes that were made, especially in the East. People are looking forward to NBA basketball.
NYSJ: You have almost two million followers on Twitter, you have a very active Web site and you have been very involved in marketing campaigns, especially with adidas, where you connect directly with fans and consumers, often one-on-one. Is that something you will continue to develop and build upon?
DH: You've been to my Web site!? [Laughs.] I love it. I spend a lot of time talking to the designers, coming up with ideas to keep people excited about the Web site. As a basketball player you want to be successful. You have to do the right things on the court but also off the court. You want everybody involved. So with these opportunities to speak with and communicate with fans, that's exciting. That's something I love.
NYSJ: You are one of the most popular players in the league, but fans don't always welcome you with open arms when you come into their town.
DH: I know when the game starts they are going to boo us and all that stuff. But before the game they usually show me some love. That's the way it goes. It's all good.