Just ask the Black Mamba himself.
Much has been made about how Howard and Bryant would interact when the behemoth joined Kobe's Los Angeles Lakers, yet we've been spared from any controversy. Say everything has been hunky dory between the two superstars would be a stretch, but the two have remained civil.
As the chaotically perplexing entity that is the Los Angeles Lakers continues to navigate this season, the relationship—defensive relationship, to be more specific—between Bryant and Howard was bound to reach its boiling point.
But Howard didn't care. Not if Kobe wasn't going to execute properly on the defensive end en route to a historical performance.
Per the Orange County Register, a Howard-invoked argument took place between Bryant and the center after the latter was unhappy with his teammate's defensive rotations:
Twice in the first quarter, Howard was visibly upset after he moved over to provide help defense against Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez, but no one—specifically Bryant—rotated over to help cover Howard’s assigned man, Hornets center Robin Lopez. The first time, Howard looked back at Bryant with an anguished look on his face and gestured at him after Lopez scored for a 12-7 New Orleans lead.
Three-plus minutes later, Vasquez penetrated past Chris Duhon again, Howard shifted over to help again, and Lopez was left all alone again with Bryant toward the corner near Roger Mason instead of in the paint. Lopez scored for an 18-14 Hornets lead, and although Earl Clark was the Laker in best position to help Howard, he yelled at Bryant about it — prompting Bryant to yell back at Howard and gesture back.
I know what you're thinking: Oh. My. God.
Truth be told, though, we always new this day was coming—just not from this perspective.
Howard is more of a carefree spirit who would play barefoot and not think twice about it, while Kobe tends to anguish over how his shoelaces are tied. Simply put, they're complete opposites, meaning this relationship was destined to blister at some point.
And yet, we never could have predicted that Howard would be the one to crack first. Honestly, I half-expected Howard to pat Bryant on the back during a game only for the Mamba to turn around and lay the smack down on him; I though Kobe would break first.
But it was Howard who broke first, because when it comes to defense, he never jokes. Poor rotations are an insult to his very being. Five rings or not, Dwight wasn't going to stand idly by and let Bryant taint his defensive prowess.
Even knowing that Howard went against Bryant, however, doesn't do what had transpired justice. The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding's recount of what happened, though, does, as he depicts Dwight's defensive disbelief over a series of timely tweets:
Dwight in disbelief at Kobe's lack of defensive rotation on Robin Lopez dunk. NO 12, LA 7.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 6, 2012
Most would have believed that to be the extent of it. Surely Howard wouldn't push a player whose looks can actually kill.
Yet Howard didn't stop there. He escalated the situation by (collective gasp) yelling at his prolific partner.
Dwight and Kobe yelling at each other after Lopez gets another open basket.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 6, 2012
Coloring the basketball world shocked after that would be an understatement. Especially since it didn't end there.
As Ding notes, Howard was upset with Bryant for not rotating over to Robin Lopez when he was forced to contest elsewhere.
Dwight yelled at Kobe for not rotating to Lopez. Kobe yelled back at Dwight, pointing toward the other end of the court.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 6, 2012
Defense is Howard's bread, butter and dessert, so it's understandable that he would be frustrated over a defensive lapse. That said, once Bryant yells at you and points his finger at the other end of the floor (as if to say offense is more important), you cease and desist. Or rather, you're supposed to.
He proceeded to take the argument into the team huddle, otherwise known as Coach Bryant's turf, all the while pointing a finger in the Mamba's face.
Now in the timeout huddle, Dwight is standing up and pointing a finger in the face of the seated Kobe.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 6, 2012
To answer your question: No, Kobe did not spear-tackle Howard onsite; the big man butted heads with one of the league's greatest ever, and somehow lived to tell the tale.
Not only did he live, but he actually asserted his dominance as Los Angeles' defensive end-all-be-all even further after the game:
“I don’t have a problem with saying anything to anybody, and it should be that way,” Howard said after the Lakers’ victory over New Orleans. “We have to be able to talk to each other. We’re a team. We’re a family. And the more chemistry we develop that way, the better we’ll be as a team.”
That hardly sounds like the perpetually jovial character we have come to know. Instead it's indicative of a tenacious Howard, someone who is firm and definitive in all of his decisions. Someone we never came to know during his time with—Dwightmare included—the Orlando Magic.
Yet, here he is, with ice running through his veins and defensive fortitude in his heart. Here he is showing Kobe, the Lakers and the rest of the world that he has a will to win, and it will not genuflect to anyone—Mamba included.
Howard was sick of watching his team collapse on defense. He was angry that there were so many blown assignments. He was downright irate that the Lakers had allowed opponents to score 100 or more points in three consecutive games.
And he was indignant that Los Angeles is allowing 43.3 points at the rim, the fifth-most points allowed in the paint per game by any team in the Association.
But that's a Howard we can all appreciate; it's a Howard we—including Bryant—can all respect.
Kobe went to sit next to Dwight at the end of the bench. At start of this timeout, Kobe reached out a hand to help pull Dwight to his feet.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 6, 2012
Kobe is no stranger to asserting his will and conviction over others, even if it takes a volatile outburst. This is a display of passion that he can appreciate, one he can understand.
It's also one that will only enhance the relationship between these two All-Stars. Bryant continued to look for Howard on the offensive end well after their spat, and he'll continue to do so longer after this game.
The even greater silver lining, though? Bryant's defense actually improved thereafter.
Dwight did go slap Kobe's hand after Kobe made a free throw. Kobe's D improved after timeout. ... NO 23, LA 20 after 1Q.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 6, 2012
Kobe will never back down from a confrontation, and most of the time, he probably won't even listen to the words that are being hurled his way.
Unless it's from someone whom he respects, someone to whom it's worth him lending his ear.
All it took was one in-game dispute to see that Howard is someone Bryant holds in high esteem, moral character and all.
That's also all it took for the entire basketball realm to understand that Howard is more than the NBA's version of a circus; that he's someone to respect.
That he's someone Bryant must respect.
That he's someone who can lead.
Ladies and gentleman, Dwight Howard has a backbone.
And Kobe himself would be the first to say that's not a bad thing.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 6th, 2012.
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