The Los Angeles Lakers have closed out the Miami Heat to be crowned 2020 NBA Champions, meaning centre Dwight Howard has finally earned his first championship ring.
It's been quite the journey for the veteran who signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers this past offseason. Each side agreed to put their past behind them to try and help this team get back to title contention, and it ended up being the perfect match as Howard was able to thrive in a reduced role for a championship team.
The eight-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA, five-time All-Defensive Team and three-time Defensive Player of the Year selection was well on his way to the Hall of Fame even without a title, but finally achieving the highly-coveted championship ring puts a bow on Howard's decorated career.
In a similar career-arch to 1970s star and Hall of Fame centre Spencer Haywood - who had an equally as decorated career earning an MVP, five All-Star appearances, five All-NBA/ABA selections and other awards such as Rookie of the Year - who had been without a title entering his 30s just like Howard. Electing to join a loaded Lakers team with the likes of rookie Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Haywood also flourished in a reduced role to earn the first championship of his career.
Point being: Howard is not the first great player to latch on to a championship-calibre team and give them key minutes to help earn a title, and he certainly won't be the last in an age where this is becoming more and more common.
In the 2000s alone, we've already seen a few great examples of this. Take a look at some other NBA stars who took the same late path Howard did to the first NBA title of their career.
2020: Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
Experience prior to first title: 15 years in NBA, 34 years old
Resume prior to first title: 8x All-Star, 8x All-NBA, 5x All-Defence, 5x Rebound Champ, 3x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x Blocks Champ, All-Rookie
Howard was widely renowned as one of the best centres in the NBA in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Leading the Orlando Magic to The Finals in 2009, it would have been hard to guess that he'd go another 11 seasons without winning an NBA title.
Putting his pride aside, Howard played a vital role off the bench for the Lakers all season. His efforts on the defensive end and on the glass earned him a spot in the starting lineup down the stretch of their 2020 championship run as Howard was able to embrace a lesser role and make the most of limited minutes.
2019: Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
Experience prior to first title: 11 years in NBA, 34 years old
Resume prior to first title: 3x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, 1x All-Defence, All-Rookie
Gasol's path was a little different than the rest of these players, being traded by the Memphis Grizzlies at the trade deadline in 2019.
In 11 seasons in Memphis, Gasol led the Grizzlies as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2013 but could never get his team over the hump to the Finals. Stating his claim as one of the best defensive anchors and playmaking bigs in the NBA, he became a hot commodity for championship contenders around the league.
A Raptors team with title aspirations needed a savvy veteran of Gasol's calibre and he filled that role perfectly as a rim protector on defence and facilitator on offence. His impact went well beyond his 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 blocks per game in the 2019 playoffs as Gasol gave Toronto the boost they needed to win the franchise's first championship.
2011: Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks
Experience prior to first title: 16 years in NBA, 37 years old
Resume prior to first title: 10x All-Star, 9x All-Defence, 6x All-NBA, 5x Assists Champ, Rookie of the Year, All-Rookie
Kidd had bounced around to a few different teams throughout the beginning of his Hall of Fame career, bringing a winning attitude with him everywhere he went. He had reached the NBA Finals in 2002 but came up short, leaving him title-less in his late 30s. Traded from the New Jersey Nets to the Mavericks in 2008, it was clear Dallas was trying to take advantage of a title window with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki in his prime. Kidd's game and basketball IQ aged well, making him a key piece for a team with championship aspirations.
Two seasons and one All-Star appearance later, Kidd found himself at the helm of a Mavericks team in the NBA Finals against the newly formed Big 3 Miami Heat. Behind a quality 9.3 points and 7.3 assists per game, the veteran floor general finally earned the first NBA title of his career just two seasons before he retired.
2007: Michael Finley, San Antonio Spurs
Experience prior to first title: 11 years in NBA, 32 years old
Resume prior to first title: 2x All-Star, All-Rookie
Finley had come up just short of an NBA Finals appearance back in 2003 as a member of the Mavericks and the veteran forward had plenty of playoff experience under his belt.
Signing with the Spurs in the 2005 offseason, his intentions were clear in becoming a glue guy for a team that had won two NBA championships in the previous three seasons. San Antonio would fall in the Western Conference Finals is Finley's first season on the team, but complimenting a trio like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, you knew they would make another run at it the following season.
The Spurs did just that in 2007, defeating a young LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals as Finley earned his first championship ring. He averaged 11.3 points per game starting in every one of San Antonio's playoff games, proving to be the perfect player to take the Spurs over the top.
2006: Gary Payton & Alonzo Mourning, Miami Heat
Payton experience prior to first title: 15 years in NBA, 37 years old
Payton resume prior to first title: 9x All-Star, 9x All-NBA, 9x All-Defence, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, 1x Steals Champ, All-Rookie
Mourning experience prior to first title: 12 years in NBA, 35 years old
Mourning resume prior to first title: 7x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, 2x All-Defence, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x Blocks Champ, All-Rookie
Payton had a number of opportunities to reach The Finals as a member of the Seattle Supersonics but only made it to the title round once, falling to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1996. Mourning had gone as far as the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997 but, like Payton, also fell to Jordan and the Bulls.
Mourning joined an up-and-coming Heat team in 2005 after being waived by the Raptors following a trade from the Nets. Payton had signed with Miami in the 2005 offseason, joining Mourning and stars like Shaquille O'Neal and a young Dwyane Wade in pursuit of a championship.
On a team loaded with the right mix of talent and experienced veterans, the Heat were able to help Payton and Mourning earn their first-ever NBA title in defeating the Mavericks in the NBA Finals. While neither elder statesmen posted flashy numbers, they both played a key role for Miami as Payton played in all 23 playoff games and Mourning made good use of his minutes while leading the playoffs in field goal percentage.
The NBA championship was icing on the cake for two Hall of Famers.
2000: Glen Rice, Los Angeles Lakers
Experience prior to first title: 10 years in NBA, 32 years old
Resume prior to first title: 3x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, 1x All-Star MVP, All-Rookie
Despite bringing success to both Miami and the Charlotte Hornets, Rice had only made it out of the first round of the playoffs one time before being traded to the Lakers in 1998.
Joining a Los Angeles roster that was poised to go deep into the playoffs with players like O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, Rice was the perfect fit in the starting lineup as a veteran ready to prove himself on the NBA's biggest stage.
He averaged 12.4 points shooting 41.8% from 3-point land, starting all 23 of the Lakers playoff games en route to the first NBA title of his career.
2017: David West, Golden State Warriors
2016: Richard Jefferson, Cleveland Cavaliers
2012: Juwan Howard, Miami Heat
2005: Glenn Robinson, San Antonio Spurs
2003: Steve Smith, San Antonio Spurs
2003: Kevin Willis, San Antonio Spurs
2002: Mitch Richmond, Los Angeles Lakers
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