Kobe Bryant often scoffed Dwight Howard. Bryant showed irritation over Howard’s goofiness. Bryant became annoyed when Howard griped about his reduced roles. Bryant rolled his eyes when Howard constantly brought his injuries. Bryant saw all of these instances as signals that Howard lacked a championship drive.
Howard often scoffed at Bryant. Howard resented Bryant’s demanding personality. Howard became frustrated with Bryant’s high-volume shooting. Howard considered Bryant’s unyielding obsession to basketball as counter productive.
So on a night where they faced off against each other for the first time since Howard unceremoniously parted ways with Bryant and the Lakers last year, it only seemed natural that they would add another chapter toward their recently contentious history.
Midway through the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ eventual 108-90 loss Tuesday to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center, Bryant heavily guarded Howard after he grabbed a rebound. Howard then swung his elbows and hit Bryant’s jaw, something that immediately ignited two years worth of tension.
“He elbowed me in the face and I’m going to let him know that I don’t like that,” Bryant said. “It’s that simple.”
Bryant and Howard exchanged barbs. Officials separated the two before reviewing the play. They then granted Bryant a personal foul, Howard a flagrant foul and a technical foul for each. During that time, Bryant could be seen telling Howard to “try me” before telling him that he’s “soft.” Howard answered back with words that remained hard to lip read.
So what did Howard say? It depends on who you ask.
Said Howard: “There’s no need to go into it. We won the game. It’s about basketball. It’s over. It’s nothing. I’m not even focused on it.”
Said Bryant: “Blah blah blah blah. I’m sure I said the same thing and he heard the same thing from me. It is what it is.”
Yet, what “it” is sparked contradictory takes.
“They don’t like each other,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “Simple as that.”
Yes, Bryant and Howard did not exchange any pleasantries during warmups and before tipoff when most opponents do. But according to Bryant, it isn’t that simple.
“You can’t help but like him. He’s a teddy bear,” Bryant said. “I really mean it. He’s a really nice kid.”
But that hardly prevented Bryant from chewing out Howard midway through the 2012-13 season at a players’ only meeting for complaining about his lack of post-touches, criticizing Bryant behind his back to teammates and passively-aggressively lamenting his reduced role in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. That hardly prevented Bryant from spending the Lakers’ free agency pitch meeting with Howard telling him he needed to learn how to win an NBA championship and that he would teach him based on his experience winning that prize five times.
In turn, none of this prevented Howard from expressing frustration that few on the Lakers, including Bryant, gave him credit for playing most of the season limited because of offseason back surgery and a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
“When you’re competing and you have a goal in mind, I know one way to get there,” Bryant said. “There’s certain times we don’t see eye to eye. But that wasn’t one of those situations.”
Instead, it was a situation that Bryant believed the NBA should have allowed to continue, providing theater for frustrated Lakers fans eager both to cheer Bryant and to boo Howard.
“I think it’s fantastic. That’s the game,” Bryant said. “Elbows are part of the game. Trash talk is part of the game. I don’t know why the NBA has become so sensitive.”