Tuesday night, a rumble made its way throughout Staples Center. It wasn’t for a LeBron James no-look pass. It wasn’t for a thunderous Anthony Davis dunk. It wasn’t for some noted celebrity getting shown on the Jumbotron. No, with 5:40 left in the first quarter, Dwight Howard entered the game, to a legitimate ovation.
Read that again. It happened.
Lakers fans have thoroughly bought in to the Dwight Howard redemption arc. It’s been easy to do so. You can see the joy he’s playing with. He’s welcomed his role and seems to legitimately love the game again.
Kobe Bryant sat down for a conversation with Arash Markazi of the L.A. Times and offered up a theory as to where that love for the game might’ve come from this time around:
“I’m happy for him because sometimes we don’t realize how much we love the game and miss the game until that window starts closing or its closed,” Bryant said. “Then you’re like, ‘Oh damn, I really miss playing the game. I want another opportunity to show what I can do.’ Sometimes you don’t know if that opportunity will ever come again. For him, I really believe he’s appreciative of the opportunity and I think he’s going to make a hell of an impact because of the new appreciation he has for playing the game.”
With this presented as context, it really does make perfect sense that Howard is playing the way he is right now. While this is obviously a cool storyline, what I find just as if not more fascinating is the way Lakers fans have bought in to Howard.
On the one hand, Howard symbolized a nightmare season and trashed a franchise icon (Bryant, ironically) on his way out the door, netting the Lakers nothing in return for his departure. For those reasons, the fan base found itself completely out on Howard with no change in that stance coming anytime soon.
On the other, well, he’s helped the Lakers win. And at the end of the day, so long as a player helps their team win, that’s all that seems to matter to that team’s fan base.
But as Bryant points out, none of this is possible without the maturation that comes with coming as close to losing something he loves as Dwight came to losing the game of basketball.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether he returns to old habits over the course of the season, but for right now, this has been pretty cool to watch, even though I’ve spent these first few games spoon-feeding myself heaping helpings of crow.