Dwight Howard had a unique Tuesday night on TNT, explaining to Charles Barkley and Co. why he appears disinterested, why teammates struggle with him, why he’s disliked by many in the league.
It was good drama, and started me trying to think of a sports equivalency to the Houston center. By sports equivalency, I mean another athlete (past or present) who sorta struggles (and offers) like Dwight Howard has. At first, I pondered superstars. Barry Bonds. J.R. Rider. Keyshawn Johnson. But none of those guys actually fit. Bonds, while awful to deal with, was transcendent. Rider was just a moron. And Johnson was a tough, rugged wide receiver whose effort was never questions.
Then, suddenly, it hit me.
Dwight Howard is Bobby Bonilla.
In case you don’t recall, Bobby Bo was a power-hitting third baseman/outfielder who came up alongside Bonds with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1980s (he actually started his career, briefly, with the 1986 White Sox, but played only 75 games before being traded). Bonilla oozed future superstardom. He had a quick bat, a lumberjack’s strength, power to spare. Unlike Bonds, he possessed a lovely laugh and warm demeanor. Seriously, if one were choosing future Hall of Famers from ’86, Bonilla would sit near the top of the list.
But then, over time, shit happened. Bonilla seemed to pout and whine more than others. He always seemed to feel unappreciated. He signed a huge free-agent contract with the New York Mets before the 1992 season, but never adapted to the spotlight, or the pressure of replacing Darryl Strawberry. He was merely OK in the Big Apple, engaged in an infamous clubhouse dispute with a reporter and, after 3 1/2 crappy seasons, was shipped to Baltimore.
He was always good-ish, but never transcendent. You could thrive with Bonilla on the field, but you couldn’t count on him to carry you. He was combustible and needy and a bit overrated. Not terrible, not awesome, not worth the trouble.
He was Dwight Howard.