MANILA, Philippines – In the daylight hours halfway around the globe, Dwight Howard is playing the role of a wrecking ball as he keeps sending his fellow Rockets big men away limping and bruised from practice. So far, Greg Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, Omer Asik and Terrence Jones have all workouts wearing ice packs, bandages and grimaces.
But away from the court, the All-Star center showed his mellow, playful side for guests of the Rockets as a singer and dancer at a reception in the team hotel.
Howard recruited rookies Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington as his backup crew — Dwight & the Pips? — while he crooned his version of R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly and then showed off his footwork outside the low post as they did the Cha Cha Slide.
“It’s all about having fun, being with my teammates and forming the kind of bonds that will help us stay together during the season,” Howard said.
Let’s face it. The Pacers could have packed up their sleeping bags and the ingredients for s’mores and found a quiet corner of Indiana to have a solid camping experience without having to travel halfway around the world. The Rockets could hidden away in the vast open spaces of Texas and Howard could sang and danced the Cotton Eyed Joe without flying across the International Dateline.
But for all logistical difficulties of getting to Southeast Asia and for all the marketing and business deals that at the root of such an event, the players do believe there can be real value of such an experience.
“I think traveling overseas on a trip like this is good for us at a time in our development,” said Rockets guard James Harden. “Here, 20 hours away, from home there’s a lot more bonding. It’s great for us. We’re so new to each other, so it’s the most important thing right now.
“Our chemistry has risen to another level as far as us hanging out outside of basketball. Whether it’s dinner, whether it’s us just going to the mall, doing small things like that, those are stepping stones to playing better on the court.”
Pacer forward Paul George nods his head with approval.
“Any team, even one that has had some success in the playoffs like we did last year, can come together more to close the gaps, to become even more of a unit,” he said. “And I think when you all travel together like this, when you are spending so much time around each other, it speeds up that process. It might be hard on our bodies, but I do think coming here to the Philippines and sharing the cultural experience is good for us as a team.”
The level of outside distractions will only increase exponentially for Jeremy Lin when the teams travel to Taiwan on the weekend, where he’ll be the center of attention.
“I think training camp is a bonding experience no matter where you have it, but the fact that we’re coming over here to play games … it’s different,” he said. “Playing games is where you have extra potential to make even stronger bonds.
“I think we’re closer. It’s natural … We have receptions and other obligations and we still hang out together after that. We spend a lot of time…getting to know each other and that’s an important thing.”
Even when there’s a 6-foot-11 center with a creaky voice singing a bit off key.
“It gives us a chance to get away from everything and just be with each other,” Howard said “The bus rides, the little things that we do.
‘We just get an opportunity to be with each other, especially with a team like this with a couple new guys, to get that opportunity to really bond, to know each other, the personalities. It think it’s really great and it’s going to help us in the season, because we already have a special bond that we developed.”
Not to mention a nightclub act.