He was booed when announced as the Hawks’ starting center. He was booed when he touched the ball. He was booed when he scored. He was booed, extra loudly, when he shot free throws. He was booed when the public-address announcer read his final line — 19 points and nine rebounds — in the moments after the Lakers’ 109-92 win.
The boos turned to cheers for Howard’s mistakes: a missed dunk in the first, a turnover in the fourth, all four of his personal fouls. But they quickly returned every time.
“No I didn’t,” Howard said, shaking his head, when asked if he heard the boos.
“No,” he said as his teammates filtered out of the visitors’ locker room. “I closed my ears.”
But isn’t it surprising that, even after three years, he is serenaded with boos whenever he returns to Los Angeles?
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, shaking his head again. And that was that.
Lakers fans may never greet Howard warmly. The 6-foot-11 center played 76 games for the franchise in a forgettable 2012-13 season, and then joined the Rockets the following season in search of a better fit. He was miscast in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced system while with the Lakers — D’Antoni is now running the Rockets — and landed with his hometown Hawks this off-season after three seasons in Houston.
That brought him back to L.A. for his seventh visit since departing. Howard initially grinned while fans showered him with boos and jeers. There was, after all, a lot for him to smile about in the early going. He scored 13 of his 19 in the first quarter, bullying the Lakers’ (9-9) starting frontcourt with a baby hook and a flurry of two-handed dunks.
But then the Lakers packed the paint, Howard’s interior production dried up and the Hawks’ (10-7) offense stalled as a result.
Howard was held scoreless and did not attempt a shot in eight second-quarter minutes. He scored four points on four shots in four minutes in the third, and then took one shot in the fourth as the Hawks limped to their fifth loss in six games.
“I think that maybe they started staying more connected to him,” Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer said of Howard fading down the stretch. “He got the ball in the post a couple times and it didn’t work out.”
Budenholzer, like Howard, did not think much of the reception his center received.
“Sure, you hear the crowd, you hear when they are going well, when things are going well,” Budenholzer said. “So it’s not like I don’t have the ability to hear, but I don’t think a whole lot about it.”
He should ask Howard for some advice. Apparently there is a way to go through a whole game with your ears closed.