Throughout the Lakers' disastrous 2012-13 season, Bryant and Howard clashed. Their disputes occasionally went public as both used the media to take a few subtle (and often, not-so-subtle) shots at one another. But those tiffs were typically followed by some assurance that the two were capable co-workers, if not fast friends.
But now that Howard is gone, there's no reason for Bryant to hold back any longer.
Bryant told Dave McMenamin of ESPN that he enjoyed the forced solemnity of the sit-down chat between the Lakers and Howard.
Kobe on the meeting with Dwight: "Everybody was dead-ass serious. It was pretty funny to me."— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 10, 2013
It's somewhat ironic that Bryant was amused by the seriousness of the meeting, especially considering that one of his main sources of frustration with Howard was the big man's constant joking demeanor. Either Bryant's torn Achilles (and attendant brush with mortality) has given him the kind of perspective that allows him to see the humor in difficult situations, or he's trying to make light of the disappointment he and his team are feeling in the aftermath of being abandoned.
Either way, it's hard to believe Bryant was anything but serious when making his pitch to Howard to stay.
If there exists a better example of the absurd prominence of social media in sports than the "news" that Bryant recently unfollowed Howard on Twitter, I'd like to see it.
Kobe on unfollowing Dwight on Twitter: "Listen man, it's just me. That's just how I am."— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 10, 2013
First of all, it can't be remotely surprising that Bryant—as intense of a competitor as he is—would want to cut ties with the enemy. Howard will be wearing another jersey next season, which means Bryant now views him as just another obstacle.
KB on unfollowing DH: "I have a hard time following people that want to beat us ... Not to say we're not friends or I don't respect him"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 10, 2013
Things are black and white with Bryant, which is why he couldn't care less why Howard left the Lakers.
Kobe when asked why DH left: "Once a guys decides to go someplace else, I'm going to waste my time trying to figure out why that happened?"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 10, 2013
Of course, it wouldn't be all that difficult to figure out Howard's motivation. If Bryant were to read any press clippings from the past year or so, he'd quickly come to understand that the Lakers are an utter disaster with virtually no hope of winning a title next season.
Maybe he's not ready to admit that to himself.
What's also notable about Bryant's conversation with McMenamin is the way he shied away from taking any personal shots at Howard. Those will probably come at some point, but for now, Bryant is being remarkably diplomatic in his comments.
Kobe on Dwight: "I'm happy for him. It's important for free agents to make decisions that they feel is best for them."— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) July 10, 2013
Anyone who really believes Bryant still respects Howard after last year's debacle is delusional, but it's nice that the Mamba isn't striking in the press just yet.
If Dwight Howard makes the wrong comment to the media or someone catches Bryant on a bad day, expect the measured responses to give way to real venom.