When news leaked last weekend that Lakers center Dwight Howard was considering sitting out for the remainder of the NBA season and thought that the league shouldn’t come back this year in order to keep the world’s focus on social justice and fighting against systemic racism, there was a group of Lakers fans that were upset. Howard had quickly went from improbable fan-favorite back to being seen as a guy who (in the eyes of some) had turned his back on the team.
Even the news that Howard hasn’t made a final decision about whether to play or not yet did little to quell a lot of the anger I saw in my social media mentions, and the Silver Screen and Roll account’s own replies. Is that just a small-but-vocal subset of fans, or does it capture the sentiment of the majority? I can’t say for certain, but either way, it’s clear that at least a few weren’t happy with Howard’s actions.
But, as usual, things aren’t quite that simple. Anyone who has watched Howard for more than a moment this year has seen the obvious joy that oozes out of him on the court, how much pride he’s had in playing for the Lakers again, and redeeming himself while resuscitating his career in Los Angeles. But in case that all didn’t make it obvious enough, Howard went on CNN to make it clear that his wanting the season to stop has nothing to do with the Lakers, and everything to do with what he sees as right:
“I want people to understand that I want to win a championship so bad, you know? Going to L.A. for me has been the best thing in my life, and I’m very appreciative of just being on that team, playing with LeBron, playing with AD, just representing the Lakers again, that has meant the world to me. I just personally have seen so much pain from our people, and I just feel like our people, we need attention. I really feel like our world is hurting right now, there is just so much stuff going on in our world... we don’t need to get distracted by anything.
“I would definitely want to play and win a championship, but I don’t want anything to distract us from really what’s going on in our world. It’s hurting. It’s hurting me, it’s hurting my family, it’s hurting all of our families and everybody’s feeling it right now, and I just think we need to focus on what’s going on.
“This is my feelings, and this is my heart... I just believe that God is trying to get all of our attention. Every single one of us. God is trying to get all of our attentions. He wants our attention. We need to focus right now, and I believe anything that can distract us from being balanced and one with ourselves and trying to get united and coming together, I think it’d be a distraction.”
Look, no one is saying everyone has to agree with Howard’s position here. But it’s clear he’s pouring his heart out with conviction, and it is incumbent on all of us to listen to every perspective offered right now, and not rush to judgement or think of these choices solely in terms of wanting sports back.
We all — including Dwight! — miss basketball, but right now the players around the league have to decide if they think that playing is safe, responsible and something they believe is the right thing to do. That’s not a choice any of us outside the league can make for them, and none of us can really know what the right call is amidst an uncertain situation in both the league and in the world.
There are pros and cons to sitting out, just like there are pros and cons to playing. But in the end, I think most of want the same thing: Justice and equality for everyone. The players just have to figure out in which way they feel like they can best contribute to that. If that means sitting out, or fighting for the season to be cancelled, we have to remember that even if we disagree, that their choice isn’t about our opinion or what is best for their team. No matter how much everyone reading this blog wants to see the Lakers winning a championship, players like Howard’s choices will ultimately be about what they feel is best for the world. No matter what choice he and others make, we all need to try to be empathetic, because this is much bigger than whether or not we get to see the full Lakers team play again this season.