Midway through the second quarter of the Lakers’ 115-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard walked back to the bench for a timeout. But what started out as a routine moment in a to-that-point normal game quickly turned ugly in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN.
As Davis walked over to exchange words with Howard over a disagreement on a pick-and-roll coverage, Howard began to stand up, at which point Davis put his hand into Howard’s chest, causing the veteran center to tumble backwards into the team’s bench as their teammates tried to separate the two seven-footers.
But while video of that moment has already filled your social media feeds, and will surely inspire a nearly endless well of hot takes while leading every sports show for at least the next 24 hours, Davis and Howard both insisted after the game that it was not a big deal.
“We squashed it right then and there. We just had a disagreement about something that was on the floor,” Howard said. “We’re grown men. Things happen. But we already talked. We squashed it. There is no issue between me and him and that’s my brother. That’s my teammate and that’s what I told him. I said ‘I’m gonna always be here for you no matter what, I’m gonna always fight for you, and I’m gonna always do whatever I can to help this team win.’ And he said the same thing.
“So we’re good, we squashed it. There’s no need to try to make it a bigger issue or something else.”
Davis was less willing to talk about the moment than Howard was, but he did say “it’s over with” when questioned about the exchange.
“Two guys who are very competitive and want to win games,” Davis said of what the moment indicated.
Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard work through some issues during a timeout...pic.twitter.com/RizGT0p823— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 23, 2021
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel batted away questions from the local media about how he handled the issue, repeatedly insisting that conversations and actions would remain behind closed doors and cutting things off with “too much” when faced with what he seemingly felt was an unfairly phrased query about teammates “putting hands on each other,” but he felt similarly to Davis.
“Its says we want to be 2-0 and we’re not. That’s all it says,” Vogel said, insisting that Howard being benched in the second half was not a disciplinary action. “These guys are some of the greatest players to ever play because of their competitive spirit. So when you don’t win, there’s going to be frustration. That’s what makes them great.”
Howard spoke most at length about the issue, and came out to speak to the media before anyone else, a rarity for a player that is often the last to leave the locker room after games. He wanted to make sure the moment wasn’t twisted into more than it was, or spun as some larger commentary on his character or reputation as a teammate.
“We have no issues with each other. Nobody should try to turn this into an issue between me (and AD), or say that I’m trying to cause problems for the team because I’m not,” Howard said. “Everybody on the team knows what type of energy I bring every single night, regardless of if I’m on the bench or on the court, I’m the same exact person. I’m never going to change. I’ll always be up. I’ll always push my teammates. I’ll always be positive no matter what.
“That’s my brother. I’m not going to let nobody mess with our relationship.”
And if people want to say that this is some sign of fracturing locker room chemistry, Davis doesn’t much care.
“Y’all can look at it how y’all want to look at it. That’s on y’all. But we’re going to keep it in house,” Davis said.