Lakers’ Dwight Howard steps up to line, fields questions on future
My daughter, Kelzer, is a mother now with three children, and it’s been more than a decade since she spent much time shooting a basketball.
But I flew Kelzer in from Arizona to teach Dwight Howard how to shoot free throws because she still has to be better than he is.
We all met at UCLA, Howard was as friendly as always and relaxed after fishing trips to Lake Tahoe and Aspen.
He posted Twitter pictures of the fish that had jumped in his boat or the ones he claimed he had caught. But they were the wrong kind of trophies for some Lakers fans.
“You just can’t please people,” Howard said. “I catch fish and it’s a problem. People were upset I was out having fun; they thought I should be sitting in a room all upset because we lost.
“I am upset, but I’m not going to stop living life.
“I couldn’t watch the playoffs I was so ticked. Everywhere I went I saw a Tim Duncan jersey, and you know how much I hated that.”
We talked about Mike D’Antoni, why Howard hasn’t committed to the Lakers and his plans to work with former NBA sharpshooter Chris Mullin.
We also chatted about his desire to make movies.
“Maybe ‘Kazaam II’,” he joked in reference to Shaq’s bomb. “Actually I’m working right now on some stuff with Disney.”
“Do they have a Disney studio in Houston?” I asked.
“Time to shoot free throws,” said Howard.
My daughter has been busy potty training the twins, so she didn’t know anything about Howard.
“I had to Google you,” Kelzer told him when they met, and I have no idea why she’s so direct. “Ask me about ‘Sesame Street,’ though, and I’m your girl.”
Howard took the bait. He said he could make more free throws left-handed than she could right-handed. He said he’d donate $5,000 to charity if he was wrong.
He was wrong, although after hanging around Howard, Kelzer’s shooting percentage plunged.
Howard could not have been more gracious in setting himself up for defeat. That’s why I like him. He keeps things in perspective, although it seems to bother serious basketball fans and players.
“Can’t we have some fun?” he shouted, while doing a spot-on goofy imitation of the daughter’s shooting motion.
He declined Kelzer’s offer to help with his shooting technique, saying he will not change the way he shoots free throws this off-season. He’ll just shoot more of them.
“I have only one problem and it’s between my ears,” he said, while admitting he visited a Lakers’ psychiatrist. “I just think too much.”
They moved to three-point territory for a game of “around the world,” advancing from spot to spot after making a three-pointer.
Kelzer quickly left Howard behind, yelling to him, “How’s your world doing?”
It was all good, Howard singing and rolling with every trash jab, although admitting he no longer intends to be a people-pleaser.
“I can’t do it anymore,” he said. “I can’t please everybody.”
What prompted the change?
“When I came back from my shoulder injury, some didn’t think I was giving my all,” he said. “And nobody wanted to hear what I said about coming off back surgery. It wasn’t fair to me. I was on a walker and four months later playing basketball. I played hurt.”
Once Howard felt better, the Lakers’ record noticeably improved, and yet some still do not acknowledge his value.
“One year ago I couldn’t do this,” he said while standing on one foot. “I was so limited. I couldn’t lift, sprint or shoot. This summer I’ll shoot 1,000 shots every day.”
The poor rims, they’re in for such a beating.
“You watch,” he said.
“I don’t see many Atlanta games,” I told him.
The media can’t seem to stop guessing where Howard will land. Some report they know what he’s thinking, although this was his first interview since the Lakers’ quick end to the season.
“I have no idea what people are saying,” he said. “I don’t pay attention to the good, bad or the ugly. Or else I couldn’t live.
“I locked myself in my house last year, but no more. I feel so much better now, healthy, more fun to come and I know I can make a difference next season.”
Just for the record, he doesn’t always smile.
The daughter and Howard continued shooting for almost two hours, or as long as it took him to finally beat her.
Between missed shots, I asked why he hasn’t committed to the Lakers.
“It’s free agency and I have the opportunity to choose where I’m going to play,” he said. “God opens doors, and I’m relying on my faith to direct me.
“I don’t think it’s fair I get criticized for waiting on such an opportunity.”
But what does he want in a team?
“I want to win; I’ve done everything else,” he said. “I just want to win.”
Can the Lakers win?
“Any team I am on can win,” he said with a grin, “but nice try.”
What about getting more money or a chance to do TV shows here?
“I’ll get those opportunities later; it’s all about winning now,” he said.
So what do you think of D’Antoni?
“I love him,” he said. “He’s a great person.”
Is he a great coach?
“He’s a great person and I’m glad we had the opportunity to be together,” said Howard, which some will undoubtedly interpret as goodbye.
What was never explicitly said, but also seemed to hang heavy in the air was the uncertainty in the Lakers’ front office, with Jim and Jeanie Buss.
“I want to see what each opportunity offers,” Howard said. “I want to see how people plan on winning.”
“So will I be seeing you next season?” I concluded.
“I’m always a phone call or tweet away,” he said, while whistling and moving on.
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