By Kevin Ding, The Orange County Register –
Like Dwight Howard, James Worthy was a chosen one — the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
Eight years into Howard’s career, with LeBron James (picked No. 1 the year before Howard) now officially crowned, mark Worthy down as unimpressed.
“I can’t say I’m a huge, big Dwight Howard fan,” Worthy said.
Lakers fans will hear from Worthy on a near-daily basis as studio analyst for games this season on the new Time Warner Cable SportsNet. For now, he cites insufficient seriousness and excessive complaining from Howard.
“Play …” Worthy is suggesting for the new Lakers center, “and don’t talk a lot.”
Much of this is perspective, as Worthy knows well from being a top overall pick. There is a responsibility that comes with being No. 1 before you ever play a game, a challenge after you’ve been pre-screened for greatness.
With rare power and agility at his size, Howard especially fits the description.
“Obviously,” Worthy said, “he’s a great specimen.”
Let’s do a quick Google search of the words “Steve Nash” and “specimen.” It turns up a fellow with a Ph.D. by that name working at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, working on advanced dating of tree-ring specimens from archeological sites.
The Lakers’ new Steve Nash, their other heralded import this offseason, isn’t quite that cerebral. But he does look a lot more like that archeologist than he looks like Howard. Coincidentally, here’s how Worthy evaluates the Lakers’ offseason: “My favorite move of the summer was Professor Steve Nash.”
That’s crazy talk considering how important Howard is to, um, everything. But Worthy still remembers one of his earliest broadcasting assignments, working a Loyola Marymount-Santa Clara game for Prime Ticket and noticing the one obvious non-specimen out there.
“I’d love to be on the other end of some of his passes,” Worthy said he thought. “Man, does he know how to create the angles. He’ll play for somebody.”
In the end, the never-recruited Nash didn’t do too badly, picked 15th overall in 1996 and only one Peja Stojakovic away from 13th overall pick Kobe Bryant. It’s about as far from first to 15th in the draft as it is from first to 15th on an NBA roster, yet Nash’s knack for team play and brilliant shooting have made for a Hall of Fame career already.
And his professionalism and lack of whining have been duly noted by Worthy: “Always loved him.”
That’s why it’s simplistic to say neither Howard nor Nash has won an NBA championship, so they’re coming to the Lakers the same way.
To Worthy, who won three NBA titles with the Lakers and was named to the league’s 50 Greatest Players list in 1996, there is something legitimately better about the Lakers: It’s not just the talent and the championships; it’s a higher standard of work and focus that brings out that talent to win all those championships.
It’s something Nash will revel in — and Howard will learn by osmosis.
“He’ll see something he’s never seen before,” Worthy said.
As opposed to a big splash, Worthy remembers wading into that pool when he arrived in Lakerland in 1982 amid his own accolades as the No. 1 pick.
“I came in as a rookie,” Worthy said, “and the feeling was: ‘You will conform to the brand.’”
Worthy launched into a long explanation about Howard that started with “Once he sees how Kobe practices …” and ended with this: “He’ll feel the difference. This is the way winning really is.”
Bear in mind Howard is coming from a world where the prince ran the palace, everyone afraid of his power. He threw things around in Orlando like a spoiled Hercules partly because he has the muscles to and mostly because he was allowed to.
Not everyone in purple and gold is a winner, of course, but there is an expectation here that you have to earn your way to glory. Howard’s arrival at least gives him a chance to change. LeBron went to Miami and did gain some perspective.
But Howard’s preference was to join a pseudo-startup-company in Brooklyn and be the face of a franchise that has never won any NBA rings. He wound up being sent to the Lakers.
Nash could’ve taken the bigger money and easy way out of Phoenix with the also-ran, never-established Raptors in his native land, where he’s so revered that five years ago they gave him the Order of Canada (the country’s second-highest meritorious honor). He figured out a way to get to the Lakers.
Their great senses of humor aside, Nash and Howard come together as Lakers from wholly different ends of the spectrum: One is the now-overrated old underdog, the other is the now-underrated young overdog.
The intelligent thinker sees and understands the contrast. Here’s how Albert Einstein once put it:
“He who is given the most is given the least. He who is given the least is given the most.”
A reminder for us all as parents or children …
A lesson about being agreeable pushovers vs. true friends …
And a perspective on which new Lakers star still has a lot to learn.