The Check-In: Lakers’ Dwight Howard copes with the death of his son’s mother

In this Feb. 12, 2020, photo, Lakers center Dwight Howard looks on during a game against the Nuggets in Denver.
Lakers center Dwight Howard has been dealing with the death of Melissa Rios, the mother of his 6-year-old son, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Dwight Howard has spent the last two months at his 23-acre home in Georgia, with his children and pets keeping him company throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

One day in late March, the Lakers center was thinking about inviting Melissa Rios, the mother of his 6-year-old son, to stay with them for a while and wait out the pandemic together. Before he could make the offer, his phone rang with devastating news.

Rios had died after having an epileptic seizure. She was 31.

“It’s extremely difficult for me to try to understand how to talk to my son who’s 6 years old, just about the whole situation,” Howard said Friday during a video call with reporters. “Something I’ve never experienced, so I wouldn’t know how to talk to my son about it.”

Howard attended her funeral, where all the attendees had to socially distance from each other.


For Howard, it made the last few months exponentially more difficult.

“I don’t know how I’ve been able to deal with it,” Howard said. “It’s just like one event after another. The Kobe situation [Bryant’s death on Jan. 26], still trying to get over, just grieve over that. Even though me and Kobe wasn’t as close as me and my son’s mom were, but just trying to grieve over that, and then the corona situation, and then all of a sudden my son’s mom died. I’ve really just been trying to keep myself busy.”

The Los Angeles County coroner autopsy report says blunt force trauma was cause of death in the crash that killed Kobe Bryant. No illegal substances or alcohol were found in the bloodstream of pilot Ara Zobayan.

May 15, 2020

He works out every day, with a pool, a gym and a basketball court on his property.

Although the Lakers are allowing players to use their facility for individual workouts starting this weekend, Howard will remain in Georgia until there is more clarity about the future of the NBA season.

“I would love to go back to L.A. and start working out with the team and everything like that, but I’ve been training here and once everything opens up then I can travel on to L.A. and start working,” Howard said. “When whoever is in charge [says] we’re opening back up, that’s when I’ll be back.”

Several times during the call, Howard was interrupted by Diablo, his 2-year-old dog who was barking at some unrevealed target. The dog, a Belgian Malinois, has the exact same personality as his 12-year-old son, Howard said.


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May 15, 2020

He’s enjoyed spending time with his kids — basketball would have made that impossible. They play hide and seek, which can take all day in that big of a space. They build bonfires. Howard installed a slide in his front yard. They hang out at the lake on his property. They play Uno, and other games.

“This has been great,” Howard said with a grin. “School has been the hardest part for all of us.”

Georgia aggressively relaxed its stay-at-home directives at the start of May, but Howard says he is not taking advantage of those changes.

“I ain’t going nowhere,” Howard said, shaking his head. “I’m staying right at home.”

Michael Jordan often created a rivalry with an opponent like LaBradford Smith over a perceived slight to help fuel a desire to dominate on the court.

May 8, 2020

He says that’s partly because the team has asked him to stay home, and partly because he’s enjoying being home.

As for the pandemic, Howard is trying to remain as level-headed as he can.

“I don’t believe in worrying,” Howard said. “I think if we approach this situation the proper way together, then we can clean it up. But I can’t worry myself. I can’t worry. Worrying causes a lot of other issues. I say for myself, I choose not to worry about it. But I take the proper precautions to make sure my family and myself are protected from the virus.”