By Ben Golliver
As if one Dwight Howard wasn't causing enough headaches for the Lakers, a second Dwight Howard has briefly moved to center stage in the never-ending Tinseltown drama.
Dwight Howard, Sr. defended his son in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was wrong to pressure Dwight Jr. to play with a shoulder injury and criticizing coach Mike D'Antoni for not intervening.
“I told him before he said it publicly, ‘It’s your career. No person can say what you need to do or not do. You can’t worry about what Kobe or anybody else says,’” the elder Howard said. “Nobody can say what Kobe said -- that’s stepping into another man’s shoes. I understand what Kobe was trying to do, but he went about it the wrong way. He’s trying to win a championship. But Dwight has to tell Kobe, ‘I appreciate your opinion, but that doesn’t matter. We’re two men on this team. We need to be reasonable about this.’”
Dwight Sr. said he believed Bryant was trying to motivate his son, but that the advice was misplaced, adding: “The problem is the coach. (D’Antoni) needs to step in and say, ‘You guys have got to be quiet. We’re trying to secure something here. Dwight is probably looking at the coach, thinking, ‘What are you going to do?’ I promise, if that had been Stan Van Gundy, that wouldn’t have happened. (Howard) wouldn’t have been admonished publicly. I think the coach has a lot to do with who controls Kobe’s mouth right now.”
Howard recently missed three games with a right shoulder injury. Earlier this week, Bryant said the Lakers "don't have time" for the injury to heal and that "some urgency" was needed. Bryant later said that he wasn't intentionally trying to prod Howard to play through an injury.
Following Bryant's comments, Howard returned to the court for games against the Celtics and Bobcats. He did so after responding to Bryant's comments by saying, "He's not a doctor, I'm not a doctor," and that, "This is my career, this is my future, this is my life."
The Los Angeles Daily News reported Saturday that the Lakers did their best to brush off Dwight Sr.'s comments.
“That’s cool,” D’Antoni said. “He’s his father. He should defend his son. But I thought we had that in Memphis. We’re good.”
“I don’t want to get into it,” Howard said. “My dad is a grown man. That’s how he feels. We’ll leave it at that.”
“It’s really not that big of a deal,” Bryant said. “In Boston, they made something out of nothing. There wasn’t anything I said that was out of the ordinary or nothing I said before talking to him. They made a really big deal out of something that is really nothing.”
Note: D'Antoni's reference to Memphis concerned a team meeting in which Bryant, Howard and company reportedly discussed any underlying issues.
It must be exceedingly difficult for Dwight Sr. to watch his son catch grief from all sides month after month, year after year. The paternal, protective instinct doesn't magically go away just because his son happens to be a giant of a man making millions of dollars. Dwight Sr. probably felt like Bryant was bullying his son into a bad decision that sacrificed the long-term in favor of the short-term and he probably felt like D'Antoni owed it to his players to protect them from each other. His son has played through pain all season long and has been one of the NBA's most durable superstars during his career. Dwight Sr. surely understands his son's commitment to the game better than most outsiders and likely realizes his son doesn't have anyone else standing up for him these days.
That said, this isn't AAU basketball where whatever a star player's father thinks carries a lot of weight. This is the NBA, where as Bryant stated earlier this week, the only thing that matters is winning and where players will be pushed harder than they've ever been pushed to make winning a reality. Howard probably feels like the whole world is against him right now, but it's his responsibility to let Dwight Sr. know that comments like these won't win him any friends or sympathizers.
In fact, Dwight Sr. has done more harm than good by confirming an apparent divide between Howard and others in the Lakers locker room at a time when the team should be pulling together to make a united, albeit somewhat desperate, push for the playoffs. The fact that Dwight Sr. spoke up also unintentionally reinforced some of the negative perceptions that Dwight Jr. can't shake: that he's indecisive, overly goofy and afraid of commitment. Behind each of those criticisms lies a root cause -- a lack of maturity -- and here Howard's father is appearing to fight his battles for him. Frankly, his father's intervention is probably a little embarrassing for Howard, or at least it should have been.