Dwight Howard is using part of his off-season time to encourage kids and… (Rick Rowell / Disney Channel )
Soon enough Dwight Howard will have to make one of the biggest decisions of his career.
Seemingly everyone has voiced an opinion about where and what Howard will do when he hits free agency. Rarely has Howard himself gone on record.
"It's OK. People are going to talk, and everybody is going to have an opinion on any type of situation," Howard said in a phone interview with The Times. "I totally understand that."
However, before the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and other franchises make their pitches, Howard was far more eager to talk about catching a mackinaw.
"It's a lake trout. It's a pretty big fish," he said. "It's pretty tough to catch because these fish are at the bottom of the lake -- 200, 300 feet deep."
The veteran center will be a free agent in July and though the Lakers would love to keep him, a number of teams will do their best to lure Howard away from Los Angeles.
In the meantime, Howard hasn't spent his time holed up in a bunker mapping out algorithms with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Instead, he is using his time to encourage kids and families to live active and healthy lifestyles, teaming up with the Walt Disney Co. as part of its health-focused competition, "Disney TRYathlon."
"Disney asked me if would I would like to join the team, helping kids to just try different things in their life," he said. "I was very excited when they asked me about it."
Howard and White House chef Sam Kass will each host a series of "TRYit" spots that will start airing in August on the Disney Channel and Disney XD. Howard will focus on teaching exercises that families can do on their own to stay in shape.
"I think it's very important. A lot of the kids today, they want to play video games and just sit around," the veteran center said. "I didn't have anything like this [when I was a kid], nothing like what Disney has done for these kids. I'm happy to be a part of it."
Howard took some vacation time after the Lakers were ousted from the first round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs in April. That's when he went on the extended fishing trip.
"The fishing vacation was great. I got the opportunity to fish at Lake Tahoe, and I also went further out from Tahoe into a small town ... Pleasant Valley, and I went fly fishing," he said. "I had an amazing time."
Howard had a challenging year, pushing to recover from last summer's back surgery while playing through a shoulder tear (labrum). By the time the Lakers got to the post-season, the squad was decimated by injuries.
"I had a chance to just get away from everything, just focus on myself, have a good time with my friends and do things I've never really done before -- fly fishing was a first, hiking was a first," Howard said.
Howard said that in addition to clearing his head, he has taken time to let his body heal.
"I'm getting a lot better. It's a process," he said of his back. "My shoulder is the same thing. It takes time to heal. I'm in no rush to try to heal it -- just let nature and my body take its course. I can't do anything special but just trust my body."
Any hints on his future, outside of the Disney project?
"Right now, my focus is on the kids, helping them become better athletes and better people," Howard said. "The focus is not on myself. I have a lot of time to think about that."
A future that he's happy to consider is the chance to work with Disney on a film.
"I would love to do it," Howard said, adding that his favorite Disney animation is "The Lion King."
"I think that's something I've been working on my whole life I love doing different voices and I would love to be a part of a Disney film where I get the opportunity to showcase my talent."
Big decisions are coming for Howard, but until then, he's content to stay connected to his inner child.
"I feel like I'm a big kid. I enjoy life I have fun," he said. "I know when to take things seriously, but I also know that I only have one life. If I live it like I'm 90 years old, then I'm not going to have fun. I'm young, I'm blessed to be alive and I'm full of life."
Howard said he hopes he can help pass on that notion to the children and families he reaches through Disney's "TRYathlon."
"It's very important to live a healthy and active life. Have fun and be yourself, be who you are," he said. "Never let anybody try to change or force you to be something that you're not -- just enjoy life, you only get one chance to go around the track."
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.