CHICAGO — There is an alternate reality, somewhere in the vast galaxy of life’s what-ifs, where Kobe Bryant was a part of All-Star Saturday night. Where he was courtside at the United Center, with Gigi by his side. Where he was pulled into the spotlight by Dwight Howard, to assist with a dunk, as he’d agreed to do. Laker lifer helping current Laker. Mamba alongside Superman.
And then there is reality, which Howard, just like the rest of the NBA community, has been forced to reckon with. To process. And after the grieving, to celebrate
On Saturday morning, the thought of Bryant’s death swept a smile right off Howard’s face. On Saturday night during the dunk contest, a remembrance of Bryant’s life was emblazoned on Howard’s chest. The Lakers center had been tight-lipped on plans for Kobe tributes or Superman stunts. Turns out, both were in the works – on the same dunk.
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It was Howard’s second of the first round. He stripped off his jersey to reveal a Superman outfit. He threw on a cape. Then he peeled off one Superman logo to reveal a second, this one with a No. 24 on top of it. He called upon a special bronze, snakeskin basketball as well, with Kobe’s signature engraved.
The dunk itself was pedestrian. The sentiment, though, was touching, and on its own earned Howard a 49 from the judges. Combined with a first-dunk 41, it wasn’t enough to stave off elimination. It was enough, however, to punctuate an emotional day.
Howard remembers Kobe
Howard spoke openly on Saturday about the joy he’s re-found in basketball this season. And specifically in dunking. But when asked about Bryant, his tone became somber. “It’s a very tough subject for me to continue to talk about,” Howard said. “He meant a lot to me.”
Still, he told stories. Like the one about Kobe and the movie Pitch Perfect.
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He explained regrets. “One thing I wish I had a chance to do was tell him how much I really appreciated him, and the growth and change I saw in him,” Howard said.
Then, on Saturday night, he set the stage for a Sunday full of Kobe tributes with a fitting nod to his former teammate.
“We know Kobe is watching over us,” Howard said after the dunk contest. “We’re grateful, thankful that he gave us some great knowledge. Very appreciative of the time we got to spend with Kobe Bryant.”
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