After LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA's All-Time scoring list, Dwight Howard said, "We don't appreciate each other as much as we should as humans. We should appreciate people while they are alive."
He was speaking about both Bryant and James' accomplishments as players in the NBA. Less than 12 hours later, Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA.
Howard said that he was one of the first players on the Lakers team plane flying from Philadelphia to Los Angeles when he saw on his phone that Kobe had been killed in the crash. He immediately woke up his teammates to tell them that something had happened to Kobe, and then locked himself in the bathroom where he began to cry.
"I didn't get a chance to tell him how appreciative I was for our time together," said a visibly emotional, yet raw and honest Howard in his first public comments on Tuesday night. "How thankful I was to be back here in LA. That was pretty hard for me. I took it pretty hard."
Dwight Howard on Kobe Bryant (Part 1)
Howard and Bryant have a long tumultuous history together. One of Bryant's best highlights came in 2004, when he dunked on an 18-year-old Howard who prided himself on never being dunked on.
Five years later, they met in the 2009 NBA Finals, and Bryant's Lakers defeated Howard's Magic in five games on their home court. Three years later, Howard was traded to the Lakers where the two became teammates during a difficult and disappointing season.
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"A lot of people thought me and Kobe hated each other," said Howard. "There were times where we didn't understand each other. We were at different points in our lives at that time."
Dwight Howard on Kobe Bryant (Part 2)
Howard was seven years younger than Bryant when they were teammates for their one and only season together. Howard said he thought their egos got in the way of the team's success that season, but said he's learned a lot in the years that have passed, including Bryant's criticism that he was "soft," which Howard says he understands was a mental challenge Kobe was posing to him.
"I saw a different Kobe, and I even saw a change in myself," said Howard. "And I'm pretty sure he saw it. I just wanted to be able to tell him how I felt about him, and I never got the chance to.
"That was really the most heartbreaking part. Every day it's been on my mind. It's something that I've just got to deal with, just show the fans in this city that I'mm willing to do whatever it takes."
Howard said that he had reached out to Kobe to help him in the NBA All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest in Chicago next week, and that he had just been told in the days prior to Bryant's death that he agreed to be there to assist Howard in one of his dunks.
Dwight Howard on Kobe Bryant Part 3
"He was going to do something for me in the dunk contest, which is kind of heartbreaking," said Howard. "It's been on my mind every day. Man, I can't believe it. I'm still in shock. It hurts. It's tough. I just never thought that somebody like that would be gone."
It was noticeable to all in the Lakers' locker room just how heartbroken Howard was by Bryant's passing, and even more so about the regret he felt in not being able to tell him how he felt before he died.
"I never expected in a million years that we'd be talking about Kobe passing away. So it was very sad, man; I just cried myself to sleep talking about it. And it still hurts to this day. It's kind of hard to talk about it, because I just get these overwhelming feelings from it. But he meant a lot to a lot of people, as you can see the love from around the world that everybody received and how hurt everybody was. I could tell that people were deeply sad."
"The fact that Kobe Bryant passed away is very emotional for me," he said. "I've been trying to take my mind off of it, but it's hard because I just would've never expected a situation like this to happen where we're talking about Kobe Bryant. He's like the first legend for all of us that we've seen in our lifetime just pass away. It's shocking, it's disheartening and it just makes you realize that we all we go.
"And it's something that, you know, I just tell people, if you have any bitterness or anger, whatever, strife towards anybody, let it go. Let them know how you feel. Get those feelings out. Let them know because you never know what could happen. Life comes and goes just like that. For me, it's super sad because I really wanted to tell him how much I appreciate everything he's done, all the things he's said. Even at the time that we were on the same team, we didn't understand each other. We were at two different points in our lives
"It doesn't matter what you have, it doesn't matter who you are: We are all we got. And love each other while we're here on Earth, treat each other the right way, respect each other and never have any hatred or animosity towards anybody because you never know what could happen to him. It was a very valuable lesson. I just make sure every day that I tell people how grateful and thankful I am for them, how much I appreciate them."