Dwight Howard Opens Up About Kobe Bryant And How Difficult It Was For Him To Rejoin The Lakers
Dwight Howard opened up over Instagram Live with teammate Jared Dudley on Wednesday about what went wrong in his relationship with Kobe Bryant when they played together for the Lakers in 2012-2013
"I really can't speak for Kobe, so I'll speak for myself," Howard said. "In that season that I played here, I think there was a lot of egos that was [sic] in the way of us being the team we wanted to be."
Howard acknowledged that his pride got in the way of them having a successful partnership.
"I know that I approached that season wanting to be the best version of myself and also the man," Howard said. "You know, I'm young, I just felt like that at the time. It was really hard for me and Kobe to really communicate. I think we were just at two different mental stages."
That season ended in a dramatic bust, with the Lakers losing to San Antonio in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Howard then left for Houston in free agency.
"We had our disagreements and our moments," Howard said. "Once I left the team, we got into it. And the word is we hate each other. Kobe and Dwight is going back and forth. I'm like, 'Man, it's not even like that. I was upset about basketball, but I don't hate this man.'"
Howard went on to join five more teams, including two that waived him. Last season, he played in only nine games for Washington after a back surgery.
His career was flailing and he never thought he'd return to the Lakers.
"I was really upset about how things ended the last time I was in LA and I felt like I got so much criticism for leaving, I was like, 'Man, I would never go back. I hated that place. I was so upset.'" Howard said.
But things changed this past summer.
Howard said he did a lot of self-reflection and decided to forgive the past and curb his ego. Instead of focusing on how he felt wronged, he decided to take responsibility for his part in their unraveling.
"I got to forgive," Howard recalled saying to himself. "I got to let this stuff go."
When Howard received a phone call asking if he'd consider playing for the Lakers, he said, "Of course." Two weeks later, the team signed him to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract for $2.56 million.
"I just said, 'You know what, I don't care about anything, I don't care about how many points I score, how many rebounds I get, who gets the praise, how many minutes I play, if my name is going to be in the newspaper," Howard said.
This time around, he was happy to play great defense. He was happy to be a cheerleader from the bench. He was happy to do whatever the team needed.
"It's worked out great," Howard said. "It was hard at first having to accept it and letting all that stuff go, but once I did it, it was like the best feeling in the world. It was like freedom."
Howard went on to become an important role player for the Lakers this season. He was averaging 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots in 19.5 minutes per game before the season was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.
After finishing with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting and a game-high 15 rebounds against Cleveland on Jan. 14, Howard sat by his locker and talked about how happy he finally was.
"Playing here in LA has been such a blessing for me and I cherish every single moment," he said at the time.
It was a stark contrast from the way he felt in that locker room seven seasons ago.
Even though Bryant was long retired this time around, he wanted to make things right between the two of them. He was in Bryant's town. Playing in Bryant's stadium. And he was finally playing by Bryant's rules.
He tried to wear Kobe sneakers during games. And he wanted Bryant by his side at the dunk contest at the 2020 All-Star game.
But before he had the chance to truly mend things with Bryant, he learned that he had died in a helicopter on Jan. 26 with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people. Howard was on the team plane flying back from Philadelphia when he heard the news.
"I was in such shock that I didn't think it was real," Howard said. "I went to DeMarcus [Cousins] and told him and I told AD [Anthony Davis] and LeBron [James]. I was the first one. I went to the bathroom and I just broke down, like, man, I can't believe this is happening right now."
Howard was crushed.
There were so many things he wished he had said. So many things he wished he had done.
Howard spoke for the first time following the crash on Feb. 4 and said he had spent many nights crying himself to sleep.
"A lot of people thought me and Kobe hated each other and stuff like that," Howard said at the time. "There were times where we just didn’t understand each other and I didn’t get a chance to tell him how appreciative I was for our time together and how thankful I was to be back here in L.A."
Howard wanted to make Bryant proud this time around. Throughout everything, he had always deeply respected him.
And as time went on, that admiration had only deepened.
"He went from the greatest basketball player, to the greatest dad for his children," Howard said.