The NBA has a storied relationship with comic book superheroes. As a league of men who don outlandish costumes are possess physiques, powers and capabilities far beyond their mortal kin, professional basketball players are about the closest thing to real-life super-beings to walk the Earth.

And they seem to know it.

ESPN's latest "This is SportsCenter" ad spot riffs on Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard's dueling alter ego as the NBA's version of Superman. In the commercial, SportsCenter personality Hannah Storm is shaken up after an office-related accident, and a crowd has gathered. There was a fire, but someone, with the use of ice-breath, has saved the day.

A bespectacled, fedora- wearing Dwight Howard pushes through the crush of concerned co-workers, playing the part of intrepid reporter.

To watch the video of Dwight Howard protecting his secret identity, and see more after the jump...
It's remarkable how effective a well-placed pair of eyeglasses can be in the quest for identity protection.

While this George Reeves Superman homage makes Dwight Howard the NBA's most currently visible cape-and-tights athlete, he is hardly the first. The Associations' fascination with superheroics was heralded by one-time Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal.

The first of a wave of modern day super-athletes, Shaq burst onto the early-90's basketball scene sporting a mean S-shield tatoo, an affinity for shattering backboards, and a Man of Steel persona. He was larger than life in every sense. He was even rewarded for his loyalties with the role of a lifetime, playing John Henry Irons in the "I can't believe someone thought this was a good idea," Steel movie. While the movie was a disaster in every sense, Shaq went on to win 3 NBA titles in Los Angeles and one in Miami, so it has generally been forgiven.

After partnering with the enigmatic Kobe Bryant in L.A., it was after his 2004 move to Miami that Shaq found his true man-of-the-spandex-cloth partner, Dwyane Wade. Known for streaking down the court at a breakneck pace, it was Shaq who dubbed Wade to be "The Flash."

Wade lived up to his speed demon namesake, and led the Heat to an NBA title. During this run, as the media toyed with the Shaq/ Superman Wade/ Flash dynamic, many analogies were thrown around. In what was probably the funniest superhero mixed up analogy ever, TNT NBA analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley characterized journeyman point guard Damon Jones as the Alfred to Shaq and Wade's Batman and Robin. But hey, Alfred is a very important part of the Caped Crusader's... crusade. So no offense should have been taken.
32) Damon.Jones.Alfred

NBA on TNT | MySpace Music Videos

It was at the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk contest that Dwight Howard made his claim to the Kryptonian throne.

After some well-executed theatrics, Howard unveiled his Super-tights, and took flight as the NBA's champion of Leaping Tall Buildings in Single Bounds.

A year later, Superman met his match. Diminutive New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson seemed like an unlikely rival to the Super-one's Dunk Contest dominance, but after unveiling a green jersey, "Krypto-Nate," was born. Howard, who had unleashed some heroics of his own, both by changing into his cape in a phone booth and by raising the hoop to 12 feet, was upstaged by Robinson when Krypto-Nate set Howard in front of the basket, and vaulted ALL THE WAY OVER THE SIX FOOT ELEVEN CENTER on his way in for the slam. It was the kind of humiliating defeat Lex Luthor can only dream of.

Still, as evidenced by the new ESPN promo, Howard's reputation as the NBA's biggest superhero remains intact. Beginning Friday, he will join the rest of the NBA's Superfriend All Star players for All Star weekend in Dallas. The festivities will be a celebration of the powers and prowess of the world's greatest ballers. It's unclear whether or not fans should expect to see any more grand acts of superheroism as the NBA descends on the Big D. Still, it might be the only place one can tune in to look skyward and see, not a bird, not a plane, but a soaring NBA superstar.

More From ComicsAlliance