When Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant spoke to Dwight Howard on Tuesday, his words to the free-agent center resounded an unmistakable and unflinching message: Let me teach you how to be a champion.
"You need to learn how it's done first, and I can teach you here," Bryant told Howard during the Lakers' presentation, witnesses in the room described to Yahoo! Sports.
Bryant didn't come to Howard's recruitment meeting in Beverly Hills to appease him, but to challenge Howard to stay and embrace the burden of the franchise's culture and embrace Bryant's demanding disposition. Bryant invoked Michael Jordan's hard-driving ways as his blueprint, and how it pushed the Chicago Bulls to six titles.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, insisted he wouldn't retreat in pushing Howard every day, that as much as the Lakers needed Howard, Howard needed Bryant and the Lakers, too.
"You have to learn how it's done," Bryant told Howard, witnesses described. "I know how to do it and I've learned from the best – players who have won multiple times over and over."
"Instead of trying to do things your way, just listen and learn and tweak it, so it fits you," Bryant told him.
Howard has retreated to Colorado for a few days, surrounded by representatives, to make a decision on his future. The Lakers are fighting frontrunner Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Golden State to sign him.
At times in the 2012-13 season, Bryant and Howard clashed over decidedly different day-to-day approaches to the game. Away from the floor, Howard's lighthearted tomfoolery clashed with Bryant's relentlessly serious-minded way. Bryant is rehabilitating a torn Achilles, but is expected to be back early in the Lakers season.
Before the Lakers ever traded for Howard a year ago, each player had reservations about playing together, about how they would blend. As the Lakers struggled, the construction of a relationship was clearly strained, but there were times when they found common ground.
If this was goodbye between them on Tuesday, Bryant had gone out the way he had come into a relationship with Howard: telling him his basketball truths, his beliefs, his way.
"You have to learn how it's done," Bryant told Dwight Howard on the way out of the Lakers, or maybe the way back into them.
Only now, Dwight Howard gets the final word.
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