Things didn’t go super well for the one season in which Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant were teammates on the Lakers, to say the least. The two’s disdain for each other was an open secret, and Howard left after one of the most disappointing campaigns from any NBA team — especially when considering the hype going into that year — in recent memory.
Howard and Bryant’s relationship had gotten better, as evidenced by their interactions at the games Bryant attended and Howard’s plea to help him in the dunk contest. a request that Bryant was evidently going to grant. Still, Howard held regrets that he never got to tell Bryant how much he appreciated him in retrospect as his career continued.
But while it won’t heal all the pain, Howard can at least take heart in the fact that Bryant seemingly had some appreciation for Howard too, even telling the Lakers it was a good idea to sign him as a free agent when Howard was unwanted by the Memphis Grizzlies and potentially on his way out of the league.
As wild of an idea as that would seem like to a time traveler July of 2013, it’s apparently true, as Lakers team governor Jeanie Buss shared the story on the “Daddy Issues with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson” podcast when asked if she and the team had consulted with Bryant before the Howard signing:
“I’m nodding my head yes. I mean, Kobe wanted us to win. He wanted to see the Lakers win, and Kobe came to a couple games and he was happy to see Dwight, and greeted him.”
Howard’s redemption arc has been one of the most heartwarming storylines around the Lakers this season, so this is incredibly cool to hear that Bryant was evidently one of those in favor of it.
But the faith necessary to give Howard another shot didn’t just come from Bryant. Buss said it was also a lesson she learned from former Lakers head coach (and her ex-fiance) Phil Jackson:
“Really, you don’t give up on anybody. Phil Jackson taught me that. Because you know Phil, before he coached the Bulls, he coached in the CBA, he coached in Puerto Rico, and he said every player will develop at his own rate. You can’t force somebody to develop faster than anybody else. Some players are ready to play in the NBA at 18, he said some guys aren’t ready until they’re 26 or 27. You can’t paint them as just ‘okay, this guy is this, so therefore give up on them.’
“Phil could always see something in somebody that could help us win, like Shannon Brown or Trevor Ariza, that came and kind of were trades that just made the numbers work. And Phil took those guys and said ‘this is how these guys can play a role on this team and play at their best,’ and I always really appreciated that about Phil.”
Howard was a very different player when he left the Lakers than he is now, but the trials and tribulations of his journey have left him in a perfect position in life to do exactly what the team has needed from him at nearly every opportunity this year, allowing him to become a valuable and selfless role player for arguably the best team in the NBA. And while most of that is a credit to his mental maturity, the Lakers also deserve credit for putting any old bitterness aside and giving him another shot back when it seemed far from certain that doing so was a good idea.
Howard proved all the doubters wrong this year, and it’s kind of cool that part of him even ending up back in purple and gold in the first place can also be traced back to the wisdom and ongoing influence of two of the most important figures in the franchise’s history.