In the continuing aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, NBA players are still coming to terms with all the feelings they never got to express to him, and all of the words left unsaid.
Bryant’s former teammate, Dwight Howard, is one of those players. Howard and Bryant had a rocky relationship when they were both on the 2012-2013 Lakers, but things had softened in the seven years since. Howard had been wearing Bryant’s sneakers all season, and the two even embraced on the sideline before a game in November.
Just a few days before Bryant’s death, Howard had asked Los Angeles Lakers fans to help him get Bryant to join him in the dunk contest, and it seemed like it was going to happen. Howard told ESPN that Bryant’s former agent and the Lakers’ VP of basketball operations, Rob Pelinka, told him that Bryant had agreed to help.
That made hearing the news that Bryant had died even more difficult.
"He was going to do something for me in the dunk contest, which is kind of heartbreaking," Howard said Tuesday following the Lakers' 129-102 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. "It's been on my mind every day. Man, I can't believe it. I'm still in shock. It hurts. It's tough. I just never thought that somebody like that would be gone.
"And it's something that, you know, I just tell people, if you have any bitterness or anger, whatever, strife towards anybody, let it go. Let them know how you feel. Get those feelings out. Let them know because you never know what could happen. Life comes and goes just like that. For me, it's super sad because I really wanted to tell him how much I appreciate everything he's done, all the things he's said. Even at the time that we were on the same team, we didn't understand each other.
"But I saw a different Kobe, and I even saw a change in myself. And I'm pretty sure he saw it. I just wanted to be able to tell him how I felt about him, and I never got the chance to. That was really the most heartbreaking part. Every day it's been on my mind. It's something that I've just got to deal with, just show the fans in this city that I'm willing to do whatever it takes."
Howard believes that Bryant understood that they’d both grown and changed over the years, but he regrets never actually saying the words to Bryant. Knowing that there will always be unsaid words between him and Bryant isn’t easy for Howard, but it has resulted in something positive: Howard is trying to be more open about his feelings, to make sure that the people in his life know how much he cares about them.
"It doesn't matter what you have, it doesn't matter who you are: We are all we got. And love each other while we're here on Earth, treat each other the right way, respect each other and never have any hatred or animosity towards anybody because you never know what could happen to him. It was a very valuable lesson. I just make sure every day that I tell people how grateful and thankful I am for them, how much I appreciate them."
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