Although they only played one year together in the 2012-13 season, Bryant and Dwight Howard’s tenure as teammates didn’t develop to the dream pairing that Lakers fans thought it would be.
The Lakers have been there before. They should have known better how teaming up two completely opposite personalities doesn’t always end well.
Much like Shaq was in his years in LA, the young Howard approached the game of basketball with a laid-back, nonchalant attitude. By no means was this a knock on Dwight’s game. After all, he was still the most dominant presence in the league at the time.
However, it was clear from the beginning that Howard’s foolish ways will never fly with Bryant.
Aside from his legendary accolades, Kobe Bryant is best remembered for being one of the most savage competitors of all time. He demanded the same level of drive and commitment to his peers. When the other party fails to live up to his standards, they butt heads.
That’s what ended the Lakers dynasty in the early 2000s.
It was deja vu all over again for the Purple and Gold during that nightmare 2012 season, once their superstar shooting guard once again failed to see eye-to-eye with their prized center.
But it wasn’t always like that. They once held each other in high regard and even mended fences before Bryant’s untimely death last January.
Here’s a complete timeline of the Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard’s rocky relationship.
Team USA/2009 Finals
Five years before Howard eventually landed in LA, Kobe Bryant got a preview of D12’s athletic prowess when they represented the United States in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
While the pair never talked about the subject of one day teaming up in the NBA, Bryant saw firsthand just how promising the 6-foot-10 behemoth can be. Howard, on the other hand, basked in the presence of a multi-time NBA champion.
At the time, Howard’s only close encounter with Bryant was when the Black Mamba posterized him during his rookie year.
Bryant got another in-depth look at Howard a year later when the Lakers met the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals. While Howard was indeed near unstoppable that series, it was the Lakers who went home with the championship in five games.
Shortly after Bryant experienced what Howard was like as a teammate and competitor, the Lakers tried to make a deal for him as early the summer of 2011. LA was ready to part ways with Pau Gasol in the infamous nixed Chris Paul trade, thinking they could have set up another deal to get Howard out of Orlando.
Although that deal fell through, they eventually acquired the services of Howard in 2012. That’s when things became a lot more complicated.
The arrival of Howard gave birth to another Lakers superteam, as two-time MVP Steve Nash also came into the fold. The Lakers had Bryant and kept Pau Gasol, while proven guys like Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes, and Derek Fisher were all part of the squad.
While expectations were high for the star-studded unit, the Lakers came out flat with a horrendous 17-24 start. Nash suffered an injury early into the season and was out of the lineup for prolonged periods. Howard, meanwhile, was also coming off major back surgery and wasn’t providing the same impact on both ends of the floor during his Orlando days.
Howard’s underwhelming performance forced Bryant to take more of the offensive load. By midseason, news broke out that Howard felt like he was not getting the ball enough and that Bryant was shooting too much.
The injury bug bit Howard hard in the coming months, which further added to the team’s woes. Bryant then publicly called out his center, claiming Dwight “worries too much” and “doesn’t want to let anyone down”.
The Black Mamba also reportedly urged Howard to play through the pain, much like how Pau Gasol was doing with a torn plantar fascia.
Howard later fired back through the media, saying Kobe is “not a doctor, I’m not a doctor. That’s his opinion.”
The superstar center played much better after the All-Star break but admitted he was still not close to the form he had with the Magic. Bryant and Howard were brilliant individually, but fans never really saw the two have a winning connection when they shared the floor. Maybe it would have developed over time, but I guess we’ll never know.
The Lakers reached the playoffs as the 7th seed that year only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Howard entered free agency the following summer and it was evident that his fractured relationship with Bryant will factor into his decision. The 8-time All-Star bolted out of Hollywood and signed with the Houston Rockets.
On-court skirmish in 2013
Bryant and Howard managed to avoid bad-mouthing one another once their tenure as teammates ended over the summer. However, that lingering bad blood between the two reached its boiling point on opening day of the 2013-14 season, when the Rockets played the Lakers at Staples.
Following a brief tussle for a rebound with under eight minutes left in regulation, the pair of former teammates got into. Bryant corralled Howard’s space and forcefully tried to swipe the ball away from his grasp. Howard then swung his elbows in retaliation, causing a near commotion between the two. Bryant and Howard continued to jaw at each other while being separated by teammates.
Kobe even infamously called Dwight as “soft”, which the latter admits made him hate Bryant for years.
Relationship before Bryant’s passing
The beef between the two superstars eventually died down over the years. Upon his retirement in 2016, Bryant became more open about his tricky relationship with Howard.
Bryant explained that the rift was nothing personal, but simply came to be since he wanted more out of Howard back then.
“When he saw the reality of it, it made him uncomfortable. And it’s very tough to be able to fight through that, to deal with that challenge. And I don’t think he was willing to deal with that uncomfortable and combative nature,” Kobe shared.
Howard, on the other hand, also appeared to echo the same sentiments when he spoke about Bryant.
“Once I left the team, we got into it. And the word is we hate each other. Kobe and Dwight is going back and forth. I’m like, ‘Man, it’s not even like that. I was upset about basketball, but I don’t hate this man.'”
The pair’s relationship got a whole lot better since then. Howard rejoined the Lakers in the summer of 2019, and word got out that it was Bryant who vouched for him to the Lakers brass.
The pair even exchanged some pleasantries when a retired Bryant attended a Lakers game at Staples. In fact, Howard revealed that Kobe agreed to help him out with a dunk for the Slam-dunk contest last February.
Bryant tragically passed away in January, and Howard was one of the millions left heartbroken by the freak accident.
Howard paid a beautiful homage to Bryant’s legacy during the dunk contest, flashing the number 24 across the Superman logo on his chest.