Kobe Bryant has not gotten along terribly well with a number of teammates during his 19 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, but few have earned as much media attention as his spat with current Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. When the Lakers traded for Howard in the summer of 2012, they appeared to have acquired their superstar of the future. Yet Howard and Bryant did not mesh well, with various reports (most of them anonymously sourced) stating that Dwight felt Kobe demanded too much of him. It eventually came as little surprise when Howard left for Houston as a free agent in 2013, and reports since have indicated that the difficulties of playing with Kobe were the primary reason for his decision.
The two former teammates managed to turn their war of (largely veiled) words into a minor physical altercation during Tuesday's season opener at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. With the Rockets in complete control up 99-74 at the 7:07 mark of the fourth quarter, Howard grabbed a defensive rebound following a miss from Carlos Boozer. Bryant pressured Howard immediately and earned a defensive foul, which caused Howard to swing some elbows to create space. The second of them caught Bryant on the chin, which caused him to fire back with a few words. Howard responded with some comments of his own before Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley stepped in to play peacemaker. Both stars continued their chatter, but there was very little threat of violence. Check it out below:
Referees assessed the play via video review and handed technical fouls to both players and a flagrant-1 to Howard for the elbow that struck Bryant. Howard hit both free throws issued for Kobe's defensive foul, after which both players were subbed out for the remainder of the game.
In isolation, the tussle wasn't especially severe — Howard didn't hit Bryant especially hard and may have done so inadvertently, while no one really got in the other's face in a way that suggested an imminent fight. When it was all over, Dwight looked amused on the bench:
But Bryant and Howard have a long, much-documented history, so this incident demands more attention than others involving similar activities. For instance, it doesn't just matter that Kobe could be seen shouting the word "soft" at Howard:
GIF: Kobe Bryant to Dwight Howard after tussle: "Try Me" http://t.co/lzgVr20L4P
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) October 29, 2014
Howard's critics have often said that the candy-loving big man doesn't necessarily have the desire required to win NBA titles, a quality that Kobe has in excess. Kobe's apparent words on the court only adds to the belief that he and Howard couldn't get along because of a perceived difference in priorities.
Plus, there have been reports of fights between Bryant and Howard before. Reports surfaced in January 2013 that the two had nearly fought after a New Year's Day loss to the Denver Nuggets, which they attempted to laugh off with this joking picture involving head coach Mike D'Antoni:
The report of that fight was shot down immediately by virtually everyone attached to the Lakers at the time, but it was difficult not to think of it in the aftermath of Tuesday's incident.
It's also possible that this interaction between Bryant and Howard loomed large simply because the Lakers have little to get excited about this season. They looked like one of the NBA's worst teams even before Tuesday's 108-90 blowout (that was not as close as the final score indicates) and the broken leg suffered by rookie Julius Randle (one of the few reasons for hope on the roster) just a few minutes after Howard and Bryant's shouting match. With a losing season on the horizon, dramatic moments and displays of strength from Kobe could be the high points of the campaign.
The Rockets and Lakers next play on November 19 in a nationally televised game at Houston. Tune in if you want to see some fireworks. A competitive game is not necessarily included.
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