Friday, July 12, 2013

Dwight Howard and Criticism

Dwight Howard decided to leave the LA Lakers to take less money with the Houston Rockets. While there were quite legitimate basketball related reasons behind this move statements from both Laker partisans and Howard himself suggest that Howard was not ready for the LA spotlight or for the occasionally pointed and direct criticism from fellow Laker and famously intense competitor, Kobe Bryant.

I don't like criticism that much. I don't know many people who actually do like criticism. It can hurt your ego when someone explores your shortcomings. The critic's tone and who they are can outweigh their valid content. It's one thing when someone who is more successful or experienced than you in your chosen field and/or has the authority to oversee your work gives you some pointers. It's a different matter entirely when a person who has been homeless for a decade starts lecturing you on your career or finances. A firm and fair critique or a blunt discussion behind closed doors resonates with me more than a person who, when pointing out something wrong or dumb I'm doing feels the need to a) inform the entire world and b) throw in gratuitous insults about my intelligence, competence or immutable attributes. Ideally, both the person giving the criticism and the target of the critique should separate the criticism from the person.

However, usually without someone to push you, you simply can't grow. You'll constantly make the same mistakes. That's true in both personal and business relationships. You need honest feedback that lets you know where, to use corporate speak, you have "room for growth". So even though I dislike criticism, I've occasionally sought it out. If I know what my weaknesses are hopefully I can make changes to develop in a positive direction. This means checking my ego and investigating if the criticism is valid and useful. That's more important (usually) than the tone or motivation.

Growing takes work and sacrifice. Often people who are the best in their field aren't super patient with those who haven't done the work. There's a reason for the saying "Nice guys finish last". Isiah Thomas was a ferocious competitor who didn't mind starting fights or finishing them. Magic Johnson might have had a famous smile but he would also give you a forearm to the throat if you came down the lane. Larry Bird would talk trash all day long while dropping a triple double on you. Was there any NBA player who hated losing or lack of preparation more than Michael Jordan? He could make grown men cry with his verbal attacks. He bullied and sometimes punched teammates. LeBron James may not appear as relentless as Jordan but that doesn't stop him from giving Mario Chambers extended harsh public corrections. These men and others like them required the best each day from their teammates. And they demanded better tomorrow. They wanted to win. People in different disciplines had that same drive. Whether it was James Brown fining musicians for fumbled notes, late arrivals and unshined shoes or Jimi Hendrix yelling at Dave Mason "Why can't you get it right?" when recording "All Along the Watchtower", the best of the best (with some notable exceptions) are often perfectionists.Even if they're soft-spoken or non-confrontational, top performers will call you out for mistakes.

How much criticism can you take? That's different for everyone. I have had occasion to give but more often receive criticism. If one can put a wall around their ego and try not to take (or give) things personally criticism can be quite useful. Sometimes there is no time to sugarcoat things. Your program works or it doesn't. Your project is on time, in scope and within budget or it's not. The higher the stakes are, the less inclined people will be to care about hurting your widdle feelings. I think, given the statements by Shaq, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Magic, that Dwight Howard might have made a mistake in letting his ego and pride interfere with becoming a better basketball player. That's easy for me to say because I don't have Kobe Bryant in my face screaming that I ran the play wrong or running me down on the team flight. Still, no one said becoming a champion would be easy. If I'm Dwight Howard, I must consider how badly I want success. What will I do to win that championship. Maybe hearing crap from a past his prime Kobe is not worth it. Maybe Kobe is done. Nevertheless when people of the calibre of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, and Kobe all question your work ethic, skills and approach, maybe you should listen.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks on Dwight.
Did you work with Dwight Howard? “No. I had a real good meeting with him when he first came to L.A. He was like, ‘Yeah,’ but that was the last time I spoke with him. . .He’s charming, he’s charismatic, very nice young man. Maturity wise, he doesn’t get it.
Imagine if you could teach Howard the sky hook. “At least he’d have an offensive move. He gets the ball on offense, oh, my god, he doesn’t know what to do. It’s usually a turnover, people come and take the ball from him or tie his arms up. Offensively, he doesn’t get it. Hasn’t made any progress. We (the Lakers when Kareem was an assistant coach) played them in ‘09, and when I saw him this past season, he was the same player.
Dwight Responds to critics
What did you think of Kobe Bryant’s comments that he could teach you how to be a winner? DH: “He didn’t say anything of that sort. People twisted a lot of stuff that he said. But in my personal opinion, I’m a winner. I’m a winner because I’ve been playing for nine years when the average career for an NBA player is three years. I’m a winner because I made it to the NBA from a small school in Atlanta, GA, with 16 people in a class. I’m a winner because I’m succeeding in life. I’ve had problems and I’m not better than the next man, but I’m going to push myself to be a winner when it comes to winning a championship. But he didn’t say anything like that and a lot of people twisted what he did say.”


1) How well do you take criticism?

2) Can you recall criticism in your job or other arenas that actually helped you?

3) If someone who dislikes you gives you criticism, do you automatically dismiss it?

4) Does Dwight Howard lack maturity? Will he ever get a championship?

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