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Michael Becker/FOX; Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty
This post contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of The Masked Singer.
NBA star Dwight Howard appeared on Wednesday night's episode of The Masked Singer as a massive purple octopus, but he says he didn't exactly choose to be the sea creature. Instead, both he and the octopus "chose each other."
The 35-year-old nailed his rendition of "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard while dressed as the stylish octopus whose massive height took the Masked judges by surprise.
Howard says the costume couldn't have been more perfectly him.
"It was like we chose each other, like the octopus chose me," Howard tells PEOPLE. "This octopus and I, we're kind of like the same, we've been misunderstood for most of all our life. ... People are afraid of it, but once they get around the octopus and they see how cool the octopus is, how smart it is, they have a different view. So I wanted to bring out some of the octopus' traits in my character as well."
In his clue package, Howard hinted at feeling "misunderstood" during his nearly two decades in the league, which began when he was selected by the Orlando Magic in 2004 with the first pick in the NBA Draft. Thanks to his defensive capabilities and strength, Howard soon drew comparisons to some of the NBA's greatest players, including Shaquille O'Neal.
Though he had individual success — he earned eight All-Star nods and became a three-time Defensive Player of the Year — for much of his career, he didn't have an NBA championship to his name. While Howard battled injuries that undoubtedly hindered his potential, some fans and analysts criticized him for smiling too much during games, as if it meant he wasn't focused on winning.
After a long road, Howard finally won an NBA championship in 2020 as a key player on the Los Angeles Lakers, a team he left in 2013 when criticism of him was near an all-time high. The moment completed what many felt was Howard's redemption arc.
"I think all of us in our lives and during our journeys, there are chapters of our lives like a book," Howard says. "We have those moments where we feel like we hit rock bottom. I've had moments in my life where I've felt like that, where it was either an injury or something has happened to where I felt like I had to have a reset, and I've had that happen multiple times."
Howard tells PEOPLE more about why he wanted to be on The Masked Singer and the lessons he's learned throughout his career.
What led to you appearing on The Masked Singer? You mentioned it was your mother's favorite show.
Yes, it's my mom's favorite show, but also last year when I was [with the Philadelphia 76ers], I used to sing all the time in the locker room and I was singing this one song called "Bend Your Knees" for guys at the free-throw line, so it could help them with their free throws. I would always sing "Bend Your Knees," and while I was singing that song, they were like, "Man, you should do The Masked Singer." That's where it got put into the atmosphere.
Yes, it's crazy. Then one day, I got a random email from someone who works with The Masked Singer and the production company. She asked me if I wanted to be on the show and I was so excited. I was writing her back before I even finished reading the email, just saying "Yes, please, I want to be on the show." That's how it happened.
What was your mom's reaction to finding out you were going to be on?
She actually got a chance to come to see the set. She was so excited. It took her about 15 minutes to gather herself after she got on the set to see. Once she saw the sign that said Masked Singer, she put two-and-two together, she said, "This is my surprise?" She was just so happy and full of joy that, she was just in tears of happiness and all that stuff. It was a great moment.
How does it feel to have a special moment with your mother like that?
Real fulfilling. Every little moment counts, especially with everything that's just going on in our world today, this virus and everything with this pandemic, everything that's trying to keep us down. So, every moment that we could provide happiness for ourselves and one another, I'm all for it. I think that moment provided much happiness for my mom, and it will be something that she'll always remember.
And how did it feel inside that massive Octopus costume once you were on stage?
It was super hot. That was the only thing I felt like I was in the oven, but other than that, it was great, man. I had a good time. The rest of the outfit was so player. Everything was just so cool, I loved it. I'm not going to lie to you. If I could wear it, I would wear the costume if it wasn't so hot all the time, the mask, but I would definitely wear that outfit to a game or something like that. It was a really nice outfit.
You have been in the spotlight for nearly all of your life since joining the NBA. How did it feel being on stage and being unknown for a brief period of time?
It felt good. It felt like I was mysterious for a moment, I had to guess who it was besides everybody already knowing, or having some kind of notion about who they think I am or what I do because of my height. So it was fun.
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After your performance of "Tutti Fruiti," Jenny McCarthy Wahlberg guessed you were Shaquille O'Neal, Robin Thicke said Joel Embiid, and Nicole Scherzinger guessed Dennis Rodman. Were you surprised by those choices?
I felt like they were going to choose one of those people regardless because of my height. Looking at how charismatic these guys are, I could see why they chose the Shaqs and the Rodmans and Kevin Garnett because those are pretty charismatic guys. Always dancing and having a great time. So it seemed like they were on the right track. I don't know any other massive giants out here that would be able to get away with being on The Masked Singer like that.
The only person to guess right was Ken Jeong.
Me and him actually did a show together and, we did a commercial for Adidas. Me and him sang on that show together so he kind of guessed from there, that's why I figured he would kind of get it right.
In your clue package, you mentioned how people wanted you "out," leading you to "fall" until you rose back up again. Can you talk about the trajectory of your NBA career so far?
With my back, I've had two back surgeries and a lot of people probably know the first. Every time I've come to the Lakers except this last year, this season, I've had back surgery and they've taken a big piece of what was in my back, I had herniated disc.
Going through that whole process, not being able to move, I'm pretty sure if anybody who's listening to this has ever had no low back pain, like serious pain, it's the worst pain. Sometimes you don't want to live, the pain is so bad.
That's how I was feeling, but yet I was still going out, playing games, I was still going out, trying to do whatever I could and I felt like those were the moments that were going to define my character. What I did when I was down. How I tried to rise back from being down like that. I took that and just allowed it to motivate me to want to get up and fight and not just stay down forever. Just made me a better person and a better player.
The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on Fox.