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Ding: Shirt on his back helps Lakers' Howard stay on court

April 11, 2013

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Who would've figured Dwight Howard to be the crusader for substance over style?

And who would ever use the deflating 2012-13 Lakers as a demonstration of how much more powerful a team is than any individual?

Yet those are two central points to appreciate here: Everyone needs the help of others to be better, whether that's just being able to play basketball with a torn labrum in your shoulder or being able to play basketball well enough to win games and maybe still shock the world.

After spending much of the season wearing flashy arm sleeves to no effect and a headband for even less reason, Howard has worn a black shirt under his Lakers uniform every game for the past two months.

Without the shirt popping up above Lakers trainer Gary Vitti's head in an inspired thought bubble via his medical connections, there would be no answer to a desperate Howard's plea for something, anything, to protect him and limit the painful aggravations to his shoulder from on-court contact.

Without it, it's entirely possible that Howard wouldn't be playing at all or would've been in and out of the lineup, and almost certainly the faint possibility of the Lakers saving this tumultuous season wouldn't exist. Since losing the first game in which Howard wore the shirt, he has not missed a single one ... and the Lakers have gone 19-10.

The shirt does things that the standard compression shirt can't dream of suggesting, much to the chagrin of Howard's primary endorsement partner and official NBA uniform supplier Adidas. It's called the "Posture Shirt" and it uses strategically placed bands to keep the body aligned — even if a joint is unstable like Howard's — and under control for muscles to operate and fire proficiently.

It is made by a Santa Ana-based company AlignMed, created out of founder Bill Schultz's simple desire to alleviate his own lower back pain without surgery. But a new study by USC pitching coach Tom House showed the shirt improved velocity by 3.2 mph and accuracy by 28 percent — and the shirt was quietly on San Francisco Giants pitchers en route to winning the World Series, unbeknownst to even those closest to that team — though to Schultz's great pride.

"We have a lot of pros who wear the garment," Schultz said. "But in basketball you can see it."

You'd be hard-pressed to get on-the-record confirmation because of their sponsorship deals that Tom Brady and Drew Brees wear it to improve their throwing; we do know that Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler has started wearing it since Vitti got the NBA's basketball operations department to approve the use of it as a medical device for Howard.

It's meant to improve health in regular people, and Vitti is sold to the point that he wears one when he does his own workouts now. I've worn it, and as someone whose shoulder has never been right since Little League pitching overload and whose mom has always nagged him to stop slouching, there is a clear effect.

If you're looking for truly meaningful proof, ask those at autism schools who've seen the shirts lead to breakthroughs with children in two days that used to take two years. And for Howard, it has been nothing short of a real Superman outfit under his No. 12 Clark Kent jersey.

Howard also is coming off spinal surgery and is a sloucher by nature despite an upper body so magnificently chiseled he can't help himself from modeling it around the pregame locker room 90 percent of the time with no shirt on at all.

He returned to action with the shirt in Boston on Feb. 7 and came to trust it in the first game back from the Lakers' shoddy Grammy trip on Feb. 12: Howard discarded the headband, ditched the arm sleeves, kept the shirt ... and crushed Phoenix with 19 points, 18 rebounds, two blocks in a game the Lakers won despite Kobe Bryant scoring four points on 1-of-8 shooting.

Howard's arm has been pulled in Oklahoma City, in Indiana, and many times since, but instead of collapsing in cringe and exiting, he has kept going.

"The shirt was doing its job," Howard said. "It keeps everything in line."

After Howard's breakthrough Phoenix game, Bryant said: "It's not about us as individuals. It's about what we can do to help the team."

So true, even when it comes to Vitti and his staff for this team riddled by injuries this season, still with Steve Nash (hamstring) questionable and Jordan Hill (hip) out at least another month.

In Howard's case, besides the shirt, the help has included a no-sugar diet introduced by Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco to improve Howard's conditioning dramatically, Lakers head physical therapist Judy Seto placing her left hand on Howard's upper right back for a series of exercises by the bench literally seconds before he plays every half of basketball and Lakers massage therapist Marko Yrjovuori pulling a jabbering, messing-around Howard away before every game to get his treatment. (At least Howard's shirt is already off for the massage.)

It takes a village. And even amid the buzz of Bryant's recent individual efforts, the reality is that Bryant doing it all has no chance of sustaining the Lakers in the playoffs.

It takes a village. Always does.

Contact the writer: [email protected]


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