Staying put and building a winning team is the key to a long, lucrative professional basketball career, research shows.

The Twitter-verse and Internets are ablaze with those questioning—or if you're in Orlando, lauding—NBA star Dwight Howard's decision to stay with the Magic for at least one more year.  

After learning that Howard credits "praying and fasting" with helping him come to the decision to stay in Orlando, @Toure tweeted that "If prayer led Dwight to this decision then the angels answering his prayers are not business savvy."

Not so fast. Based on all the research I've seen, Dwight Howard made the right decision, business-wise and for the long-run of his superstar career.

Changing teams may mean more money in the short-term, but it can be risky for aspiring professional sports superstars, according to this comprehensive study. All-in-all, the optimal superstar career path is for a young player to stay put — to excel early, lead his team to more wins, and ultimately to a championship.

If a superstar does decide to make a change, the study cautions, he’d best be careful to jump to a championship caliber squad.

If the player is well-liked and the team is a winner, it can work. But the risks are substantial. Less established stars run the risk of being overshadowed by true mega-stars, like Chris Bosh, who was the centerpiece of the Toronto Raptors but is now a "third wheel" in Miami. And it can be risky for a true superstar, like LeBron James, who may have sacrificed four or five straight MVP titles because of the popular backlash over his move from Cleveland to "South Beach."

The best path appears to be the Dwyane Wade model, who brought the Heat their first title in just his third year when paired with Shaquille O’Neal, and later encouraged James and Bosh to join him in Miami.

Dwight Howard may have sacrificed some short-term dollars, but in terms of designing a sustainable long-term career as a superstar, he's following the playbook to a tee.

Top image: Reuters/Jason Miczek

About the Author

Richard Florida
Richard Florida

Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at New York University.

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