Superman is coming to Chicago


Feb 23

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My guess is I probably did what most kids did when they were 10 or so. At least in my generation. I joined the Superman of America club and got a button, a secret decoder and an official membership card.

OK, I was a bit of a dork. I said, WAS.

Now, perhaps, kids do something of the same, though the super hero may well be Dwight Howard, who likes to dress up as Superman these days.

At least in basketball terms, he is fast becoming that and we’ll all get a good look Tuesday in the United Center when the Bulls face the Orlando Magic and, at least in the view of Dwyane Wade, “The hardest game you’re going to play in the NBA. You’ve got to stop Dwight Howard inside, close out on the three-point shooters and then help back on Dwight again. It’s the hardest 48 minutes you’re going to play.”

Wade offered that after the game Sunday night when he scored a career high 50 points, and his Miami Heat still lost to the Magic by 23 points.

And you can be sure that’s due to Howard. The Magic have some good complementary pieces in Rashard Lewis (a lot of money for a role player) and Hedo Turkoglu. They made a good deal in getting Rafer Alston from the Houston Rockets with the season ending injury to Jameer Nelson. Alston is taller and, I think, runs a team better. And coach Stan Van Gundy has done a good job in creating a nice offensive system around Howard with a reasonable touch of defense for a team without any great individual defenders.

But make no mistake. This is all about Howard, who does seem to have powers and abilities far beyond those of other men.

Yes, Shaquille O’Neal labeled himself Superman some time ago, and Shaq will be remembered as one of the greatest big men in the history of the game. What a wealth of riches for Orlando–still without a championship–that both got their starts with the Magic.

That Howard has taken also to calling himself Superman has been some source of amusement and distraction to O’Neal. Much of that has come from Howard’s carefree act at the dunk contest when he wore a Superman cape and it’s carried him to international fame to the point he was the No. 1 vote getter in the recent All Star balloting.

Not Yao Ming with all those votes from China everyone always moans about. Not LeBron or Kobe, who are in the great debate for best in the game today.

So who would you take if you were starting a team today?

It might actually be Howard, who is quietly—or as quiet as you can do it when you call yourself Superman—becoming more than a ferocious dunk only player.

Howard has developed a nice hook shot, and is beginning to put up numbers that are incredible and perhaps beginning to have the impact on the game that Tim Duncan has had.

No, he’s not about to have those 50-point games like Kobe and LeBron, and Wade, though Howard did have a 45-point, 19-rebound, eight-block monster against Charlotte last week. But you can now begin to argue that Howard’s impact could transcend them all with his defensive presence at the basket.

The Magic is 41-14 and 19-8 on the road. They have the league’s fourth best record, third in the East. The middle of all that is Howard.

He’s averaging 20.9 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.02 blocks, leading the league in blocks and rebounds. He’s putting up some huge games, five times with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds and a recent run of 18 straight double/doubles. This month, he’s averaging 24.5 points and 15.1 rebounds.

But it’s more than numbers with Howard, who has shown an unrestrained joy for the game and another quality I particularly admire more in what I’ve seen with he and Shaq as opposed to Kobe and LeBron, for example.

LeBron, actually, isn’t as bad as Kobe, who seems almost to be constantly complaining about foul calls. You see it much more with the guards, who actually practice grunting and exclaiming when they drive to the basket. You even see guys practice that.

It’s something I’ve long admired in Shaq and see a lot of with Howard, though I can’t say much the same with Duncan.

The way the rules have changed, the perimeter players are protected more with virtual incidental contact called a foul. Considerable contact is permitted beneath the free throw line. So you won’t often see big guys getting those huge point totals because they won’t get to the free throw line quite as much. And they miss too many, anyway.

Because of the way the game is called, the big guys absorb much more contact without getting much help from the referees. I suppose the theory is, like in life, the big guy can take more, so he doesn’t need as much protection.

I’ve always admired Shaq for the way he’s turned the other cheek. Other than the time, of course, when Charles Oakley pounded him in the head and Shaq ran after Brad Miller and tried to kill him during one of those forgettable Tim Floyd Bulls seasons. Lucky for Miller, Shaq is as accurate with his punches as he is with is free throws.

Howard also isn’t particularly accurate from 15 feet, so the general strategy is a sort of hack-a-Dwight when he gets down low. With Miller and Aaron Gray still around and Joakim Noah, the Bulls now have a bunch more fouls to hammer away at Howard.

But you aren’t likely to get much response from Howard, either. I assume those guys feel it, though I wouldn’t know. But I give Howard credit as well for the way he doesn’t resort to complaining and whining—in my view Duncan’s one imperfection—over being fouled so often.

Though I suppose when you call yourself Superman, you better be ready for some of those metaphorical bullets to bounce off you. The Bulls had a good shot at beating the Magic in Orlando back in November when Drew Gooden did a heck of a job harassing Howard.

An aside here: I’ll miss Gooden as my blogging associate with Chuck Swirsky. I’d suggest Miller as a replacement, though, I think he’d spit too much tobacco juice into the computer.

The Magic blew out the Bulls New Year’s Eve in the United Center, and the Bulls get one more look at Howard and the Magic next month in Orlando. Unless, perhaps, the Bulls can climb to sixth in the East standings with the Magic now holding the third seed. That race for the bottom of the East and likely first round exit unless you can get to four and probably play Atlanta will take some time to sort out the way the Knicks and Nets have been stealing some games, like they did Monday night with Devin Harris’ game winner one of the most remarkable shots you’ll ever see in basketball.

Though I’m most excited to see Howard again. He doesn’t get the notice of Kobe and LeBron, but he’s having the impact. And performing some Superman worthy basketball feats.

Just ask me: I claim the world record for saying the Superman theme faster than a speeding bullet. OK, I’m not fully over that dork stage.

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