Unlike most young pros, who pretend that they have the whole world figured out, Howard freely admits that he will be overwhelmed next season. (He plans to have an elder cousin live with him full time.) Told that one NBA scout has complained that "he always seems to play at three-quarters speed" against high school opponents, Howard says, "Sometimes I'm afraid to open up and show what I can do. It's part fear of messing up, and sometimes it's fear of getting hurt, being afraid of injury." The challenge of the pros will force him to push himself; since May he has been rising at 4 a.m. to start his workouts. "I'm working hard, but not as hard as I need to," he says. "They say you get a lot of downtime in the NBA. Why not put in an extra two hours each day to get better? It's not going to hurt. I want to say at the end of my career that I was one of the hardest workers."
In the afternoon before his eponymous Capital Classic, Michael Jordan addressed the high school stars as they sat in the bleachers of the University of Maryland's practice gym. The first to raise his hand was Howard, who asked Jordan about the sacrifices that champions must make. "When other players are sleeping, that's when you want to be out there working," Jordan told him. "Work hard. Be the best. Demand a lot from yourself, and then when you earn that respect, be demanding of others."
At times religious devotion can be perceived as contradictory to a fighting spirit, and humility as an absence of confidence. But listening to Jordan, Howard gained renewed faith in his belief that pure motives and hard work conquer all. Jordan explained that he gained respect for the daily work habits of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird during the legendary Dream Team practices before the 1992 Olympics but admitted that he lost respect for his good friend Charles Barkley "because he didn't like to practice." He said, too, that he would pay top dollar to see Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan because they want to win more than anything but was ambivalent about Allen Iverson, whom he felt could do more to raise the level of his teammates' play.
After Jordan posed with Howard and shook his hand, Dwight thanked him for all he'd done for the game. His idol then told Howard he was capable of even greater things. "It almost brought me to tears," recalls Howard, "that Michael Jordan would say that to me."
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