Dwight Howard On Playing Overseas, Free Agency In A Post “Decision” World

Stars don’t come much bigger than Dwight Howard.  So while Deron Williams shook up the world by signing with a Turkish team, there would be no bigger shockwave in this lockout than Dwight Howard actually signing to play for a foreign team.  And to hear Dwight tell it, it’s something he’s open to.

“I’m not at liberty to talk about it, but there’s a huge possibility about me going to China or me going overseas to play basketball,” Howard told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday in Fairburn, Ga., where Howard was hosting a charity basketball game.

During the interview, Howard stopped short of saying he was in contract talks with a foreign team.

“The big thing for me is not giving too much information away, but at the same time I still need to let people know what’s going on with me,” Howard said, according to The Associated Press. “I don’t want to just sit over here and forget about basketball and waste, you know, opportunities for me to get better.”

Howard also said: “If I decide to go overseas, the main thing is for me to continue to get better, not to do the things that I normally do, but do better at the things I’m not good at. So I can use that talent to go overseas, working on my skills and staying in great shape.”

This may simply be the Player’s Union going through its biggest stars to put a scare into owners. To have Dwight Howard, the only reason the Orlando Magic even have a chance at a sustained playoff run, say he’d head to China is enough to send owner Rich DeVos running for the Depends aisle.  As far as the lockout goes, this may be a huge bluff, and its up to the owners to decide whether to call it.  

But there’s also another aspect to this.  In talking to our editor Jeff Garcia about players going overseas, he brought up whether David Stern would be willing to let them go as unwitting ambassadors of the brand.  Chances are fans of Turkey’s Beskitas club will watch NBA basketball when they can, but now they’ll also be New Jersey Nets fans, which opens up a new market where one didn’t exist.  And China to the NBA is what California was to prospectors in 1849 or what Texas was to oil men in the early 1900’s.  Dwight going over is like tapping another rig.  Just sit back and watch the money roll in. 

And that applies for Dwight, too.  Stern can sit back and enjoy some of the fruits of these guys bringing some star power to foreign markets, the stars can also enhance their own brand and set themselves up quite nicely for long haul.  So while there is certainly a valid argument to be made for Dwight Howard “risking too much” to play in China, there is also a valid argument to be made for him “expanding his global reach” to a point where he’s raking in some very, VERY serious endorsement money.  

Let’s face it, these guys are businesses now (unless you’re Dirk Nowitzki, but he’s a huge exception).  If one thing radically changes in this lockout, it may be the globalization of individual marketing efforts.  But that comes with a price.  Motivation to enhance your personal brand can make you make some decisions that you might normally not make.  Take LeBron James, for example, who has made it no secret that he wants to be a billionaire.  

As great as the LeBron brand was doing in Cleveland, bolting for Miami was a move intended to win championships and push his brand to another level.  Championship LeBron is worth more than “Ringless LeBron.”  And while LeBron was free to make whatever decision he wanted, it was “The Decision” that caused his marketing efforts to take a bit of a hit.  Sure, he’s still selling sneakers like mad, but to be a “brand,” you need to reach a broad audience.  And that’s where marketing missteps can cost someone.  But don’t think Dwight is unaware of how LeBron hurt himself.

What was your initial reaction to LeBron James and “The Decision?” What were other players saying around the league behind the scenes of how that played out?

“I watched it live. I could tell he [LeBron James] was hurt before he even made his decision known to everybody. He was very hurt and it just looked like he really didn’t want to get up there and do what he was doing. He had to make the best decision for him and his career and to just see all the stuff that happened after he made his decision. I think that’s the thing that hurt Cleveland fans the most is the way he did it. I think that’s what hurts them the most.”

Are LeBron James’s actions last off-season with “The Decision” a blueprint for what not to do when you’re a free agent in the not too distant future? Is that how you don’t do it?

“I think so. I think the way he did just seems like it just made people seem he ditched the whole town of Cleveland. I don’t think he meant it like that, but that’s how it came off and it hurt a lot of people. I actually talked to a lot of people in Cleveland who were just hurt by how he did it, so I think that was the biggest thing. He did everything he could in Cleveland. I think he felt like he just had to move on.”

Being aware of LeBron’s mistakes is a huge step for a star like Dwight.  He’s entering the same stage as LeBron.  A mega-star whose team has gotten him close but not close enough.  But he’s got the added specter of a lockout to contend with.  It’s a game-changer in the sense that it might give Dwight the opportunity to grow the “Dwight Howard corporation” without necessarily having to ditch a smaller-market team to chase a championship.  Of course, it could also have the opposite effect.  He could decide that chasing the ring now would only add fuel to his overseas marketing fire.  

This is uncharted territory here.  Dwight is an interesting position to be union threat, NBA ambassador, and personal marketer all at the same time.  It will be interesting to revisit this time in a year to see how it affected Dwight’s decisions when its his turn to make a decision.