Center Dwight Howard has known some tragedy in recent years. Last season, while playing for the Lakers, Howard lost Melissa Rios, the mother of his then six-year-old son, David, to an epileptic seizure. Now, just 10 months later, Howard has suffered another loss—Howard learned his paternal grandmother, Gussie Patrick Howard, died on Monday at age 97 just before the Sixers were to play the Jazz.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers told Howard he could take the night off. Howard declined and, in fact, had his best game as a Sixer, notching 14 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes played.
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On Wednesday at team shootaround, Howard told reporters:
It was very difficult to playI had found out that morning. I tried to get up and move around but couldn’t. It really hit me. I just tried to get myself ready to play. I didn’t know if I could play, but I know my teammates needed me just to be there. And I needed them as well. It meant a lot that this team and the coaches and the players have been so loving toward me. I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I could and let them know that, no matter what goes on in my life, I’ll always give this team and this organization all of me. And I just appreciate them so much.
Sixers’ Coach Doc Rivers Did Not Expect Howard to Play
Howard, who is 35 years old and in his 17th NBA season, is having his least-productive year statistically. After winning a championship with the Lakers last year, he is playing a career-low 16.7 minutes as the backup to Joel Embiid, scoring a career-low 5.9 points per game.
Howard missed shootaround on Monday and, according to coach Doc Rivers, did not show up to the arena until around 6 p.m. “I assumed he wasn’t playing,” Rivers said. “It’s funny, I told him he didn’t have to play. He said, ‘Coach, I just want to get on the floor, it’s better than sitting around the room.’ And I thought he was phenomenal.”
Howard said that there was, in fact, something cathartic about playing under those circumstances.
“I just tried to get my mind off it for a second,” Howard said. “Despite the fact that she was 97 when she passed away, she lived a very long life, I think that it was just hurting that I did not get a chance to take to her before she passed. That’s probably the most hurtful part, I at least wanted to see her, talk to her one more time before she died. Overall, she lived a long life, so for me, just getting out there on the court, she would have wanted me to play. She watched every game she could and all I could think about was her.”
Dwight Howard Speaks on His Grandmother
Howard admitted that his well-known candy addiction came thanks to his grandparents, who lived two hours outside Atlanta, where Howard grew up. He reminisced about his visits to his grandparents’ house.
“We would go there in the summer,” Howard said. “I grew up playing basketball right outside of her house. My neighbor—her neighbor—put a basketball hoop on a tree outside of her house. I would go to her house and we would play basketball. She was just watching us all day. I remember that. I remember her telling me she was so proud of me and so happy for me, to see me play basketball, she has watched me my whole career. She has every picture of me growing up in her room.”
Howard signed on with the Sixers this offseason after a contract snafu with the Lakers left him open for a role elsewhere. He has not played major minutes because of the way Embiid has played, but in games in which he has played 20-plus minutes, he is averaging 9.1 points and 10.7 rebounds.