LOS ANGELES — Dwight Howard is the only member of the current Lakers to have played with Kobe Bryant. That made it completely understandable that he wasn’t quite ready to talk about the death of his former teammate at the team’s first home game following Bryant’s tragic helicopter crash last week, or at either their next game or any of their practices since.
On Tuesday night, after the Lakers beat the San Antonio Spurs, Howard whispered back and forth at his locker for a long time with a Lakers spokesperson. Afterwards, and at times while visibly trying to hold back tears, he was ready to talk.
What followed was nine nearly uninterrupted minutes of how he’s coped since the loss of Bryant, and his thoughts on the importance of forgiveness and how grief can affect all of us.
With some light editing and removal of the questions, the transcript of his remarks is presented below in its entirety because of how powerfully it stands on its own in a way my own words could not do justice.
“My thoughts when it happened? I was extremely hurt. Yeah, it really hurt me bad. I didn’t know what to do or say but I was extremely hurt. I’m still kind of lost for words, it doesn’t seem real... I never expected in a million years that we’d be talking about Kobe passing away, so it was very sad.
“Man, there’s nights where I just cried myself to sleep talking about it. And it still hurts to this day. It’s kind of hard to talk about it because I just get these overwhelming feelings from it. He meant a lot to a lot of people, as you can see the love from around the world that everybody received, and how hurt everybody was, you know I could tell that people were deeply sad.
“I tried (to call on my spirituality), but it was just really hard. A lot of people thought me and Kobe hated each other and stuff like that. And 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. and stuff like that, so that was pretty hard for me. I took it pretty hard, the death of Kobe.
“My heart is with the family and all the families that were affected, and Laker Nation... I was extremely hurt.
“It was very meaningful, just seeing him (at the Hawks game earlier this year). But I just never thought it would be Kobe... It still doesn’t even seem real, and it’s really hard for myself to really put into words how I felt about the situation. I never thought that I would see a teammate of mine pass at such a young age, so it really hit me hard. I was extremely hurt.
“All year long I just wanted to show him that I was gonna do whatever it takes to help this team win. I’ve been wearing his shoes since the season started. I wanted him (to help me) in the dunk contest. All these things, just to see him go away just like that [snaps his fingers], I guess the spiritual side… was knowing that for all of us here, we’ve got to be appreciative for the time that we have on this earth, and we can’t take any moment, take anybody or take anything for granted... It’s just a surreal situation.
“It’s still shocking for a lot of people. Being a teammate of somebody that passes away, and somebody like Kobe that I grew up watching, played on the same team (with), played against, played in the Olympics together, had dinners, movies, went to his house after he had the Achilles surgery, and just knowing that he passed away, being back in this arena tonight was super emotional.
“Even tonight you could tell that as much as our fans, they want to get hype and stuff like that, it’s just like, ‘man, Kobe’s not here.’ So it hurts. I’ve probably cried as hard as I have in a while, with the death of Kobe. And it wasn’t because we were close, close friends, it was just like, man, I just never thought that it would be Kobe.
”He did (know I wanted his help in the dunk contest). He was gonna do something for me in the dunk contest, so it’s just kind of heartbreaking. It’s been on my mind every day. Like man, I can’t believe it. I’m still in shock. It hurts. It’s tough. I just never thought that somebody like that would be gone. It’s something that I just tell people: If you have any bitterness, or anger, or whatever strife towards anybody, let it go. Let them know how you feel, get those feelings out, let them know because you never know what can happen.
“Life comes and goes just like that [snaps his fingers], and for me, it’s super sad because I really wanted to tell him how much I appreciate everything he’s done, and all the things he said, even at the time we weren’t on the same team.
“We didn’t understand each other, but I saw a different Kobe, and I even saw a change in myself and I’m pretty sure he saw it. So I just wanted to be able to tell him how I felt about him, and I never got a chance to. And that was really the most heartbreaking part. Every day it’s just been on my mind, and it’s something we’ve just got to deal with, and show the fans and the city that I’m willing to do whatever it takes.
“I wanted to (check out the memorial at LA Live). I went to the one at the practice facility, and it was just super hard to look at pictures, super hard to even see the fact that Kobe Bryant passed away.
“It’s very emotional for me, and I’ve been trying to take my mind off of it but it’s hard, because I just never would have expected a situation like this to happen where we’re talking about Kobe Bryant. He’s like the first legend I think for all of us that in our lifetime we’ve seen just pass away. So it’s shocking, it’s disheartening, and it just makes you realize that we all we got.
“It doesn’t matter what you have, it doesn’t matter who you are, we are all we got... Love each other while we’re here on Earth, treat each other the right way, respect each other and never have any hatred or animosity towards anybody because you never know what could happen to them.
“It’s a very valuable lesson, and I just make sure every day I tell people how grateful and thankful I am for them, and how much I appreciate them. I think it’s important that we all do that, because like I said, you never know what can happen. To see somebody like Kobe go, for me, it was just eye-opening and super sad.”
These are lessons all of us can learn, and I’m thankful that Dwight was willing to be this raw and honest with all of us.
All quotes obtained firsthand. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.