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As the NBA bubble crystallized and teams began committing to going, the Lakers had two players who hesitated to join the team in Orlando, Fla. The first was Avery Bradley, who opted to stay home. The second was Dwight Howard, who eventually decided he would go into the bubble.
But it wasn’t a decision made lightly, nor was it one without consequences.
“There’s nowhere to go, there’s no way to release anything,” Howard said. “Any feeling that you might have, it’s just like we’re stuck. So, just try to find joy in the fact that I have my son with me, the fact that all we have to do is win eight games to win a championship. … That is very difficult, seeing the same walls every day.”
In June, Howard first expressed his doubts about being away from his family and friends for so long. He had spent the hiatus in Georgia with his children, one of whom lost his mother in March. Melissa Rios, the mother of Howard’s 6-year-old son, died because of complications from epilepsy. It made leaving home all the more difficult.
His son joined him in the bubble recently. When asked if he’d thought about leaving the bubble since being here, Howard avoided the question.
“The biggest thing is just observing everything that's going on around me,” Howard said. “Everything that's going on around the NBA, our team, and around the world. So I'll speak about some of the things at a later date. But right now, the focus is on us winning this championship, and what I can do to help this team win. Obviously, coming in, I felt like, ‘don't do anything that would be a distraction.’ But at the present time, I'll save those comments to a later date.”
Wednesday marked the first time in two months that Howard had spoken with reporters, despite repeated requests.
When he spoke in July, he had just been released from quarantine and was subject to scrutiny by the league when he was reported for not wearing a mask around campus. Howard grew frustrated at the time that there was any attention on his mask-wearing habits or what he was doing in the bubble. It was attention he felt would be better served by focusing on issues of social injustice.
That was two weeks before the seeding games began and a full month before the playoffs began. When the league paused operations after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play in Game 5 of their first-round series, the players met several times to determine how to move forward. Howard had particular interest in the conversations, and even participated in a smaller group meeting between select players from each team the next day.
He declined to talk about that Wednesday.
Distractions are hard to come by for Howard in the bubble, and for the last two weeks, the basketball court has also not allowed for much distraction from reality. Coach Frank Vogel used Howard and fellow center JaVale McGee rarely against the Houston Rockets, who don’t play a center to match up against them. Howard played in only two of the five games the Lakers played against the Rockets for a total of 15 minutes and 39 seconds.
“It was extremely hard, but I know that my teammates still needed me no matter if I played 10 minutes or no minutes, just bringing energy,” Howard said. “So I just try to bottle up all the negative energy and try to turn it into something positive when I step on the court or in the locker room or on the bench cheering for my teammates. It’s very difficult when you’re not playing sometimes —or it’s very easy to sulk and be upset and try to find ways to blame everybody else, but I just thought a lot of positive things.”
Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.