Sixers center Dwight Howard wasn't feeling motivated to play on Monday night against the Utah Jazz, and he had every right not to. On the morning of the game, Howard sat in his hotel room in Utah when he found out his 97-year-old grandmother, Gussie Howard, passed away.
After hearing the news, Howard struggled to find the motivation to get up and get out. Therefore, he skipped the team's shootaround session on Monday morning. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers believed his backup big man wasn't going to play, but then Howard surprised his team when he showed up at the arena four hours before tip-off.
"I didn't know if I could play," Howard explained two days later. "I know my teammates; they needed me just to be there. And I needed them as well. It meant a lot that this team, the coaches, and the players have been so loving towards me. I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I could and let them know that no matter what goes on in my life, I'll always give this team and this organization all of me. I just appreciate them so much."
Howard checked into Monday night's game for 26 minutes off the bench. With a heavy heart, the veteran center drained five of his eight field-goal attempts and put up his season-high of 14 points. In addition to scoring, Howard also secured a double-double as he collected 12 rebounds.
Although Howard and the Sixers didn't get the results they wanted on Monday as they lost to the Jazz, Howard's willingness to push through and play didn't go unnoticed by his teammates. "It was great, man. It just shows the type of teammate that Dwight is," said Sixers veteran forward Tobias Harris.
"He was playing with a heavy heart out there tonight. So, I just have the ultimate amount of respect for him. We're here for him as a team to uplift him and make sure he's in good spirits. It just shows who he is as a person. He's an amazing leader and is somebody who cares about the team and cares about helping us win."
After Monday's game, head coach Doc Rivers called Howard an "unsung hero" of the night due to his efforts off the bench. Although nobody expected him to play or even produce the way he did, considering the circumstances, Howard believes he made the right choice to push through and play.
"She would've wanted me to play," Howard said. "She watched every game that she could. All I could think about was her. I was glad I actually got out there and played. I know the outcome wasn't where we wanted to be as a team, but I think for me personally, it was a great step. You know, dealing with something like that, people will sit down and not play, but I felt like she would want me to go out there and play for her honor. So, I was happy I did that."
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_