Religion won't sway Magic's decision


Dwight Howard's strong religious beliefs will not be an obstacle if members of the Orlando Magic believe he's the best player for the organization.

But Pat Williams, the Magic's senior executive vice president who represented the team at the draft lottery Wednesday in Secaucus, N.J., also said Howard's strong religious beliefs will not be the deciding factor in the Magic's evaluation of Howard.

The 18-year-old power forward from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy has the potential to be this year's No. 1 overall pick. He's also expressed his desire to put a cross on the NBA logo, as well as use his power in the league, "to make sure that everybody hears the truth about God."

"We're first looking for a talented player, someone who will have the ability to play in this league at a very high level," Williams said. "But we're also looking for someone who a young man who is strong in character, and I believe Dwight's strong Christian stance, a la (former Spurs center) David Robinson is a wonderful part of his life.

"Despite the fact that he might make himself a target, it thrills me to see a young athlete unashamed of his stance on religion."

Williams, himself an outspoken Christian, wrote the book, "How To Be Like Jesus: Lessons On Following In His Footsteps."

"I'd much rather take my chances with a guy who is committed to walking the straight path," Williams said. "But the bottom line is, we are going to draft the guy who has the best chance to become a star."

"I think his faith should be a factor in them selecting him," said Howard's father Dwight, a Georgia state trooper and athletic director at SACA. "If they know where Dwight is coming from, and that he is rooted and grounded, that could only bring about a good thing."

According to former ABA and NBA guard Claude Terry, executive vice president of the Pro Basketball Fellowship, about 50 percent of the league's players attend at least one team service conducted by the organization's chaplain during the season. It seems every team has a player who considers himself a devout Christian. That doesn't mean those players who outwardly discuss their religion in the locker room are always welcomed.

"I think one thing Dwight is going to have to be cognizant of, as a young guy coming into league, is that it's OK to talk about your religion, but you don't want to preach to the players," former NBA player Jack Haley told ESPN's Outside the Lines recently. "And you don't want to convert those who don't want to be converted, because that will cause a rift in the locker room."

Haley said strong religious beliefs -- including those of Robinson, Terry Cummings and Avery Johnson -- caused a rift in the Spurs locker room in the mid-90s.

As for using its No. 1 pick on Howard, if the Magic is looking for an immediate impact player, religion won't define its selection. Connecticut junior center Emeka Okafor is thought to be ready to play right away at the NBA level, while Howard might need time to develop. Another factor to consider is a quick turnaround in the standings might give the Magic a better chance to re-sign Tracy McGrady, who has the right to exercise an option in his contract that will make him a free agent after next season.

"The dilemma for the franchise is, 'Do you want to try and win now or wait two or three years for a guy to develop?'" McGrady told Florida Today. "I'm just saying, I'm not trying to wait that long to win. I was in that situation last year and I just can't see going another couple of years losing and waiting on players to develop. ... I just think that it would be best to go get a guy ready to fill a role and contribute right away."

"At the end of the day, when this kid works out, he's clearly going to be the No. 1 pick on talent alone," said his agent Aaron Goodwin, who also represents last year's top pick LeBron James.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.