SAN ANTONIO — Long before they ever squared off down in the paint, exchanged pushes and shoves, elbows and hips and knees in the frenzy of a playoff game, Dwight Howard knew all about the Spurs’ No. 21.
“I literally grew up watching Tim Duncan,” said the Lakers center as he unlaced his sneakers following practice.
Howard was only 11 when Duncan was drafted No. 1 overall by San Antonio in 1997 and Duncan had already won two NBA titles by the time Howard entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2004.
“He’s a big guy who handled the ball, shot the ball well, had a lot of moves on the block and made it tough for guys to guard. I loved watching that.”
But Howard never tried to imitate that. The truth is, his angular body and his offensive moves that are less-than fluid did always resemble those of another famous Spur, David Robinson. Those two have become friends, occasionally chatting by phone.
Yet when it came time for hero worship, Howard cast his gaze in the direction of, perhaps, the most famous big man of all time.
“My childhood idol was Wilt Chamberlain,” Howard said.
But it wasn’t grainy old videotapes that piqued his interest. The 1980’s-era Alphie the Robot, a one-foot tall toy that asked questions and dispensed bits of trivia to young minds, first told Howard about Chamberlain.
“He used to say: ‘Wilt Chamberlain scored a hundred points,’ ” Howard recalled. “I was intrigued by Wilt Chamberlain from that moment on. I wanted to meet him, but he died before I got a chance to get to the NBA. He was my childhood idol.”
A six-year-old quickly began to research and learn about Chamberlain.
“He liked to have fun,” Howard said.
It’s funny how things turn out. Now Howard wears the Lakers jersey that Chamberlain once wore, lives just up the street from Wilt’s former Bel-Air palace in the Santa Monica Mountains.
“If you came out the back of his house and looked up to the right, my house is right there,” Howard said. “Mariah Carey lives right by me. You can see the ocean from my rooftop, downtown and the Staples Center from the back.
“And I’ve got a telescope just like Wilt had. The roof of his bedroom used to open and he’d look at the sky. Now I’m looking up at all the same stars.”
Along with a slice of the sky, it seems they also share struggles at the free throw line and a few personality traits, including a persecution complex. (more…)