As Dwight Howard spoke Tuesday night, he kept coming back to the same theme. Tell people how much you appreciate them. Don’t let anger and bitterness linger. Life does not promise years to resolve old issues.
They are themes that have been on Howard’s mind since he learned Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26.
“It just makes you realize that we all we got,” Howard said. “It doesn’t matter what you have, it doesn’t matter who you are, we are all we got. And love each other while we’re here on Earth, treat each other the right way, respect each other and never have any hatred or animosity towards anybody because you never know what could happen to him.”
When he heard the news on a team flight,Howard just went into the bathroom to cry. During the last week he’s cried himself to sleep more than once. He tried to tap into the spiritual work he did this summer, but his mind hasn’t been quite there yet.
Howard never imagined he’d wake up to the news that Kobe Bryant had died. Not this soon.
“I really wanted to tell him how much I appreciate everything he’s done, all the things he’s said,” Howard said. “Even at the time that we were on the same team, we didn’t understand each other. But I saw a different Kobe and I even saw a change in myself. And I’m pretty sure he saw it. I just wanted to be able to tell him how I felt about him and I never got the chance.
“That was really the most heartbreaking part. Every day it’s been on my mind.”
Howard spoke after the Lakers’ 129-102 win over the San Antonio Spurs. It was the first time he felt ready to address reporters since Bryant’s death, and he still struggled with it. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, including two of Gianna’s teammates, also died in the crash.
Howard’s relationship with Bryant had many layers. He played in the Summer Olympics with Bryant in 2008, but they really got to know each other during the 2012-13 NBA season when Howard played for the Lakers.
After Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in April 2013, Howard said he tried to visit Bryant in the hospital. When he couldn’t do that, he visited Bryant’s home instead. But they also clashed with Bryant questioning Howard’s toughness at times. He’s reflected on their relationship this season and understood better some of the lessons Bryant was trying to teach him.
“All year long I just wanted to show him that I was gonna do whatever it takes to help this team win,” Howard said. “I’ve been wearing his shoes since the season started.”
Two weeks ago in New York, Howard had playfully said he wanted to build fan support for his All-Star dunk contest plan before approaching Bryant about it. On Tuesday, Howard revealed that Bryant had actually agreed to help him with one of his dunks.
Early last week, Howard wanted to visit the memorial that had sprouted at LA Live across from Staples Center. He checked with Lakers officials, but was told there were too many security concerns. He settled for spending time at the memorial outside the Lakers’ practice facility and found it difficult to see the photos of Bryant, to know they meant Bryant was gone.
“I probably cried as hard as I have in a while, the death of Kobe,” Howard said. “It wasn’t because we were close, close friends, it’s just like, man, I just never thought that it’d be Kobe.”