New Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard spent his first day in town doing something that was near and dear to his heart on Sept. 12
Howard surprised an all-school assembly at Starmount Academy of Excellence when he emerged from behind a curtain following an introduction by Hornets Chief Operating Officer and President Fred Whitfield.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have a new teammate this year who absolutely loves young people, loves to touch their lives and wants to spend his first day in Charlotte here with you today,” Whitfield said. “We’re thrilled to have him here playing on our team, but we’re also thrilled that he cares about our community and wants to do great things here.”
Once Howard, who stands 6-foot-11 and donned gray slacks and a form-fitting white shirt that showed his physique, emerged from the crowd, the middle school-aged kids erupted in cheers.
Howard showed off his personable side by jokingly playing with Charlotte Hornets mascot Hugo and by cutting up with school principal Nancy Martinez, but was there for a much more special reason.
Howard donated $100,000 to the school to start the Dwight Howard Boys and Girls Club at Starmount, which did not have a program in place before the gift.
More than 50 Starmount students had already enrolled in the new program, which will open its doors at the start of the 2017-18 school year even before they knew of Howard’s involvement.
The club, which is similar to ones Howard has opened in his previous career stops in Orlando, Houston, Los Angeles and Atlanta, will provide educational programs, sports, fitness and recreation programs, leadership development and health and life skills workshops.
“Growing up, a lot of kids don’t have opportunities like this,” Howard said. “I didn’t have these opportunities, so we need to find a way to make these kids successful in their lives. It’s bigger than basketball. I want to try to turn around some of the things going on in Charlotte.”
Howard addressed the crowd by speaking on the importance of getting an education, goal setting and reaching for your dreams. He even promised if every student at Starmount read two books before the Hornets season tips off Oct. 18 that he would get them all tickets to a home game, which brought the crowd to a frenzy.
“Anything you want to do and any dream you want to accomplish you can do it,” Howard said. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t accomplish your dreams because you can do all things.”
Howard joined the Hornets in a June 20 trade that saw Howard and a second round draft pick come from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee and a Charlotte second round pick.
The former Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time NBA All-Star, who has averaged 17.5 points and 12.7 rebounds during his 13-year career, said he was happy to be in Charlotte playing for the Hornets when he got into some basketball talk with a group of reporters following the assembly
“This is an opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” he said. “I’m not too much worried about the naysayers, the rankings and stuff, but just the hearts of the people. I’m in a much better place mentally, physically and spiritually than I have been in a couple of years.
“This is going to be better than my first couple of years in the league, I think.”
But while Howard will make a difference on the court, he said it was his goal to first impact the community, something he hopes the new Dwight Howard Boys and Girls Club will do.
“We want to give these kids some hope that they can be successful in life, with so much stuff going on in our society,” Howard said. “It is important to me because it was something that I never had. I want to give these kids that chance.
“I am a firm believer in the Boys and Girls Clubs and the work that they do to provide programs and services to help young people in the Charlotte community and across the country succeed in school, develop leadership skills and maintain healthy lifestyles. I’m extremely honored to be helping them make an investment in the kids who attend Starmount Academy of Excellence right here in my new hometown of Charlotte.”