As agents court teenage hoops star Dwight Howard, family closes ranks
Posted: Friday April 16, 2004 6:49PM; Updated: Saturday April 17, 2004 1:53AM
Don't you love when the Yankees meet their match? Bill O'Reilly is thrown from his high horse? Mike Tyson is knocked silly? Or a sideline genius is humbled?
Imagine this scenario: A pack of hungry sports agents must tone down their rhetoric because they've come face-to-face with the law. That odd scene played out recently as a horde of big-time player representatives courted Dwight Howard II, the consensus No. 1 high school basketball player out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and perhaps the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
Laying down the law was the kid's dad, the original Dwight Howard. As if his 6-foot-4 stature and cleanly shaven dome weren't intimidating enough, the elder Howard is also a Georgia state trooper. The kid's uncle is known around Atlanta as simply The D.A., Fulton County district attorney Paul Howard. The law-and-order brothers head the talented teen's advisory committee, and are joined by his mother, Sheryl; Ted Matthews, an associate pastor; and Henry Williams, the family accountant.
Every pro-bound athlete, high school and college kid alike, should be so lucky to have this kind of support network.
I'm not suggesting that every agent is a shark who preys on vulnerable, young athletes. Or that every one of them hires so-called "runners" to entice potential clients with money, ladies and nice wheels. Heck, some players ask for and expect the inducements. I've reported enough stories about agents to recognize that this kind of stuff does happen, though the business is hardly as corrupt as it's often portrayed.
But if any potential representative tried to pull something like that with Howard -- and we're not suggesting any of those courting him have --- they would have neded up charged on the spot. The Howards are professional folks, deeply committed to their Christian faith. The kid is almost too good to be true: a wonderful talent and a model student who promises to get a college education.
"We heard from a lot of people about money being exchanged and all that kind of stuff, but I guess because of the work my brother and I do, we certainly never had anybody even mention anything like that,'' said Paul Howard, grinning at the mere thought. "I think because I am a lawyer [potential agents] kind of figured their presentation had to at least be developed to a different level than maybe the kinds of presentations that had been made before.''
Paul dabbled little in the sports world before his nephew surfaced on the NBA's radar last summer. He's best known for prosecuting a case against Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis -- who was charged with murder and aggravated assault in connection with a knife fight that had left two men dead an Atlanta street after Super Bowl XXXIV -- that ended with Lewis pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge. Two of Lewis' associates wereacquitted of murder and aggravated assault charges. Previously, while in private practice, Howard represented former Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins "in an incident.''
So Paul brough a unique perspective as the Howard team began to interview potential agents. Candidates were brought in and asked what they could do for Dwight. They were quizzed about any disgruntled clients. References were sought.
The D.A. came away impressed with the answers, though he remains concerned about other young athletes whohave to go it alone. "I would hate to imagine a situation where these agents and all these folks get a chance to accidentally interact with these [athletes], simply because they don't have the kind of support systems around,'' he said.
Dwight Sr. acknowledges that he was caught off guard when agents offered to negotiate his son's first NBA contract for free or almost nothing. Only later did he realize that there's little to negotiate, and the agent's money typically comes from the player's endorsements and second contract. His take on the business? "I don't think you have an expert in the field,'' he says candidly. "I haven't met one yet. They talk good about endorsements and stuff like that, but I don't see any experts. I don't see anybody that I would say, 'Here is my son. Guide him. He is yours.'''
Like everything involving Dwight II, the family will ride herd over those chosen to handle the 18-year-old's endorsements and finances. One person will oversee contract; another will invest the kid's millions. To allow one person to handle both is a "plain giveaway,'' Dwight Sr. says.
So, while it's no surprise that the 6-11 forward formally declared his pro intentions Wednesday -- the first player of an unusually talented high school senior class to do so -- the real buzz is about which agent the family favors and what kind of shoe deal the kid secures. Suffice it to say, reps from the three major shoe labels -- Nike, Reebok and Adidas -- showed up for his announcement at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy.
His future agent, though a contract remains to be signed, sat quietly during the hour-long "announcement program'' that was part graduation ceremony, part pep rally. Aaron Goodwin, who made a splash landing schoolboy phenomenon LeBron James a year ago, won out over finalists Arn Tellem and Hank Thomas.
Howard's advisory committee allowed the 18-year-old to meet the trio after whittling the list down from the 10 they interviewed. They ultimately signed off on Goodwin, who impressed the family with the endorsements he'd garnered for James, though it's silly to expect Howard to be marketed as the next LeBron James.
Not surprisingly, Goodwin gave a thumbs up to the fairly intense Team Howard approach, saying, "This is good because you cut through all of the crap.'' It's just unfortunate that other young players can't replicate the support system.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.