By Miyah Keller
There is another reality, someplace in the immense universe of life’s uncertainties, where Dwight Howard threw down a dunk with Kobe Bryant’s help on All-Star Saturday Night.
Where Bryant was courtside at the United Center, with daughter Gigi alongside. Where he was pulled into the spotlight by Howard, to help with his dominating dunk soaring from the free-throw line.
Afterward, there is reality, which Howard and the NBA community, has been compelled to deal with the passing of a legend. What’s more, after grieving, to celebrate.
“I was going to show him what was on my chest,” Howard said, “That was going to be a lot of fun, dedicating this to him, but everything happens for a reason.”
On Saturday night, in remembrance of Bryant’s life, Howard brought back his 2008 “Superman stunts” as he revealed the No. 24 emblem on his chest in his caped superhero outfit. He called upon an exceptional bronze, snakeskin ball with Bryant’s signature engraved.
The dunk was unspectacular. The sentiment, however, was heartwarming and enough to earn Howard a 49 from the judges. Joined with a first-dunk score of 41 it wasn’t sufficient to fight off elimination.
Howard is, as the young dunk contestants called him, “an old head.” He no longer plays in All-Star games on Sundays. His current role has him coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have the best record in the Western Conference at the All-Star break.
“We know Kobe is watching over us,” Howard said, “We’re grateful, thankful that he gave us some great knowledge, very appreciative of the time we got to spend with Kobe Bryant.”
Howard spoke Saturday morning about the passion he’s re-found in basketball this season, especially when dunking. However, when asked about Bryant, his tone got solemn.
He was reminiscing from being on the Lakers team with Kobe in 2012-13 before Howard left for Houston Rockets.
“It’s a very tough subject for me to continue to talk about,” Howard said. Despite their differences, “He meant a lot to me.”
“One thing I wish I had a chance to do was tell him how much I really appreciated him, and the growth and change I saw in him,” Howard said.
On February 16, 2008, he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in New Orleans, performing his “superman” dunk. He has appeared in the dunk contest three consecutive years from 2007,2008, and 2009 where he lost a highly contested matchup with Knicks guard Nate Robinson.
Howard was in the prime of his career while playing with the Magic. He earned three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards and reached the 2009 NBA Finals during eight seasons with Orlando. Six of his eight straight All-Star nods also came during his tenure with the team.
Also, Howard was an eight-time NBA All-Star yet observed his career started to blur off in 2016, spending injury-plagued and uninspired seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, and Washington Wizards before his arrival to Los Angeles.
Last year injuries took a toll on his joy for basketball, but Howard stayed motivated to see every step through to get back into that zone where he knows he’s the best.
“Never stopped believing in myself, got to continue to believe,” Howard said. “I can’t let any outside noise affect who I am as a person and a player … Let me embrace the moment, embrace people, and enjoy because of this a one and a lifetime.”
Howard has reshaped his career goals and is focusing on the bigger picture for his second appearance with the Lakers.
“We got the rest of the season to win a championship and bring it back to Los Angeles,” Howard said.