Prodigal Christian NBA Player Dwight Howard Is Finding Way Out of 'Dark Hole'

(Photo: Facebook)Dwight Howard, 31, of the Charlotte Hornets.

When Dwight Howard, was named the No. 1 overall draft pick in the NBA in 2004, he was a devout 18-year-old Christian who was still a virgin intent on getting people "saved."

"I want to be able to speak to non-Christians so that I can get them saved or change their lives around," Howard said at the time, according to ESPN.

Thirteen years and five children with five different mothers later, Howard, now 31, is working on reconnecting with God, reviving his troubled career and sharing his story — a cautionary tale.

"All of a sudden I went from the good guy to the devil," he said in an attempt to explain what happened to his life in a Sports Illustrated interview with Lee Jenkins.

"What I've been through," Howard said, "I don't want anybody else to go through."

The man who became known as "Superman" for his once dominating play in the NBA revealed that as a teenager at Fellowship of Faith Church in Atlanta, Georgia, the pastor once told him that his purpose "is to use basketball as a platform for God's glory."

And he held his faith for a while as the new face of the Orlando Magic and tried to do just that. However, he slowly found himself isolated and ridiculed with handlers trying to protect him from the things in the world they felt would "corrupt" him.

As his stature grew in the NBA and the fame came, Howard didn't want shelter. He wanted to experience everything that life had to offer.

"I came from a little box," he told Sports Illustrated, "where everyone wanted to protect me from the big world I was about to enter. But when I finally got into that world and took a look around, I wanted to experience all of it."

Three years after joining the NBA, Howard's first child, Braylon, was born in 2007. And when the news became public, his image as a devout Christian was shattered.

"I was ashamed because I'd talked so much about being a Christian, professed my faith to the whole world, and here I was with a baby out of wedlock," Howard said. "My parents judged me. A lot of people judged me. I felt like I shouldn't even be out in public because everyone looked at me as a hypocrite."

The church no longer felt like a haven for him after that and his spiral into the dark side began.

"I felt like I didn't need my relationship with God anymore," Howard said, "and that caused a lot of pain."

In another six years, Howard would father four more children: Jayde, Layla, David and Dwight III. These new additions to his life also came with public custody and child support battles with the women involved.

"I'd been so sheltered for so long, once I got out of my house, I was ready to try anything. It's like, 'I've heard so much about these clubs, these strip clubs, let's try 'em out. Let's party like these older guys,'" he said. "You're young, you're on TV, and all these beautiful women are coming up to you. There's no comparison, but at the time, I felt like a kid who has never had candy in his whole life and suddenly is given all the candy he could ever want. If you're still just a kid — which is what I was — you're like, 'Give me more.' It became an issue."

And Howard regrets not being more responsible.

"I should have been more responsible. I messed up. I sinned. But I won't look at any of them as a mistake. They're all a blessing to me," he said of his children.

As his personal life spun out of control, so did his professional life. During the 2014–'15 NBA season while playing for the Houston Rockets, Howard thought about retiring from basketball.

He chose, however, to get help from a pastor, Calvin Simmons, who has ministered to hundreds of professional sports stars including Adrian Peterson, according to Sports Illustrated.

"Dwight had gone from the darling of the NBA to the black sheep," Simmons said. "He realized he had done some things wrong and needed to change, but at the beginning he just wanted to share."

Simmons said they worked together three hours a day for three, sometimes four days each week.

"When Dwight first got to Orlando, he was looking at teammates who were 28, with a wife and two kids, going off to dinner. That's what he desired, an authentic relationship with a real girlfriend. But when you're raised in the faith and you fall into something, there can be a tendency to feel like you're not worthy of coming out of it. You can go into a dark hole and stay there," Simmons said. "He got to a point where he thought, 'I like sex and I don't believe the heart really exists, because that's not what anybody is reaching for.' So he went through this process where he enjoyed something detrimental to him. Some of our best conversations were about why you put yourself in position to be devalued."

He also learned how to pray for adversaries and allies in the professional basketball world like Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, Sports Illustrated reports. He wrote their names on notebook paper which he then used as wallpaper in a room in his house so he could remember to pray for them.

"I saw him cleanse everything, and cut away the clutter around him, from a business manager to a security guard to all these financial people," Simmons said.

Then this summer, perhaps a lifeboat from the Lord, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan decided he wanted to take a shot at reviving Howard's career. Since Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, the Hornets will be his fourth team in six seasons.

Jordan told Howard that he was concerned about the regression of his play and he wants to do something about it.

"Why are you so pissed off?" Jordan asked Howard during a call this offseason, according to Sports Illustrated. "When you're pissed, you're out of control, and you're not focusing on your shots or your free throws or the right type of defense," Jordan added. "Why play pissed when you can play determined?"

Howard's experiences over the years have affected his confidence and right now, he tells Sports Illustrated, he is now focused on God and basketball and praying for "confidence, and peace."