When Dwight Howard joined the Lakers for a second time a few weeks ago, it didn’t get off to a much better start than the end of his first tenure in Los Angeles. Sure, the stakes are lower for Howard this time, but he was almost immediately the punching bag that franchise legends Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal used to end their recent tiff, which seemed to be a lose-lose situation for a player who was already hardly a celebrated addition.
After Bryant jokingly criticized O’Neal for not working hard enough when they were teammates, O’Neal fired back, but eventually the two made peace by having a laugh at O’Neal implying that he though Bryant was talking about Howard’s lack of work ethic, rather than his own.
Howard was asked about the whole thing as he was re-introduced to the local media on a conference call this week, and he claimed it didn’t bother him.
“I really didn’t know about it until one day it was brought to my attention as I was on Instagram,” Howard said, and he added that he doesn’t want to fight with Bryant and O’Neal anyway.
“Shaq and Kobe are two of the greatest players to ever play this game of basketball. I have nothing but love and respect for both of those guys,” Howard said. “I think what they’ve been able to accomplish in their lives after basketball has been amazing.”
Howard, firmly attempting to take the high road, instead praised Bryant for all of his post-career projects, and said the way O’Neal had made his own forays into business has served as an example for him.
“All the things he’s done off the court, he’s somebody that inspired me to continue to grow as a businessman,” Howard said.
As a result of that respect, Howard is trying not to pay their comments any mind.
“The things they said, I don’t take it either way. My job is to come here and help this team win. It’s not to get into any arguments or fights with Shaq or Kobe, or anybody. I don’t plan to allow anything to distract me from helping this team win a championship,” Howard said.
One comment doesn’t guarantee that this is actually a different Howard, but that is a decidedly different way of looking at things than he seemed to display during his first time on the Lakers’ roster. Maybe it’s something, maybe it’s nothing, but for now it is at the very least interesting.
And more than that, Howard is also right. Feuding with Bryant and O’Neal isn’t just not his job, it also might be actively detrimental to his efforts use his actions — and not his words — to show the fanbase and organization that he’s changed. Spending energy arguing with two of the most legendary players in franchise history will only hurt the way people perceive him, and is furthermore simply a waste of his time. Good on Howard for recognizing that, and avoiding the first landmine on what he and the team surely hope is a redemption tour.