Dwight Howard peers out the living-room window of his condominium on the 25th floor of an apartment building in uptown Atlanta and points south: beyond Buckhead, past the skyline, to a neighborhood by Hartsfield-Jackson airport’s westernmost runways that he can’t see. Every couple months he drives there, to College Park, and idles on Godby Road, in front of the lot where his childhood home used to sit, before it burned down. He thinks about his first hoop, set on the dirt in the backyard, and all the boys from the surrounding apartments who came over to play because there was no other court around. He was only eight, and they were teenagers, but it was his basket so they had to follow his rules. “No cussing!” little Dwight Howard pleaded, stomping his $10 Pro Wings from Payless, and the big kids grudgingly agreed.

He slept under a wooden cross and a framed copy of the Ten Commandments. He prayed twice a day, once before school and once before bed. He went to Bible study on Tuesday, teen ministry on Friday and church on Sunday, at Fellowship of Faith in East Point, where he started a youth program called Top Flight Security so he and his friends could usher congregants to their pews. His parents sent him to Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, a private school with 16 students in his grade, all the boys outfitted in matching maroon ties and sweater vests. When he sought post defenders his own size, he joined a firemen’s league at Atlanta Christian College, and he told everybody that he’d someday persuade the NBA to superimpose a cross over its silhouetted logo.