Dwight Howard came into the National Basketball Association as a star, a humble yet charismatic one at that. But last season the player with the glowing smile devolved into a locker-room blight and ultimately talked his way, his coach’s way, and even his general manager’s way off the Orlando Magic. Instead toiling on the court in the middling market of Orlando, Howard has gone Hollywood as a Los Angeles Laker, while his former coach and GM are unemployed. Instead of being one of the leagues brightest stars and most enjoyable personalities, he is being viewed as a whiny, manipulative baby who got what he wanted and then left town anyway. By all accounts, this reputation would be well-deserved.
But think back with me, though, to when Howard first entered the NBA. He was an 18-year-old right out of high school entering a world of multi-millionaires, glamorous lifestyles, huge egos, and predatory groupies. Howard was a fresh-faced, respectful young man entering a world where respect is earned by paycheck size, number of endorsements, best stat lines, and most wins. Not exactly what one would call conducive to a healthy maturing process. Obviously none of this excuses Howard’s poor decision-making, but I am pushed to consider what criteria I use and what considerations I give when I form judgments.
The lowest judgment bar to jump over would be to simply slap a label on someone based on the public’s perception of him. The more famous the person, the easier it is. Most of the time we are given minimal context or background, and as much as we think we know about celebrities, we are still sorely lacking in perspective on them and their lives.
I am not saying that context or perspective will necessarily ease the judgment of people. In many cases it might do the opposite. What I am saying is that judging harshly without perspective can be a risky, hurtful thing to do. This hurt can last a very long time because negative impressions do not fade nearly as quickly as positive ones. We simply do not know what happened behind the scenes in Orlando. We do not know Howard’s relationship with team management or coaches, or what kind of advice he was receiving from friends or family. We do not know what kind of detrimental effect growing up in such a league has had on him. We lack perspective.
Context and perspective do not explain away wrongdoing or foolishness, but they can help explain them. They can give us a clearer understanding of the person we have judged, and should he change over time and seek redemption, through understanding, we may be more willing to accept that. We ought to hold our judgments with a loose grip in those instances where knowledge is lacking. Whether it is Dwight Howard or anyone else, we must do our best to consider the context before casting our judgment.