Dwight Howard insisted on playing for the 76ers on Monday in a 134-123 loss in Utah, despite hearing earlier in the day that his grandmother had died.
Coach Doc Rivers told Howard he didn’t need to play, but the 17-year NBA veteran declined the offer and put on one of his best performances of the season.
Howard had a season-high 14 points, along with 12 rebounds, in 26 minutes, 8 seconds. He had one block and shot 5 of 8 from the field and 4 of 6 from the foul line.
“Well, it was very, very difficult to play,” Howard said after Wednesday’s shootaround before the Sixers game against the Houston Rockets at the Wells Fargo Center. “I had found out that morning, and I tried to get up and move around, but I 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.”
The Sixers needed Howard even more since Joel Embiid was a late scratch with back tightness.
Howard’s grandmother, Gussie Patrick Howard, resided in Swainsboro, Ga. She was 97.
Against Utah, he clearly played in his grandmother’s memory.
“I know the outcome wasn’t what I wanted it, or what we wanted it as a team, but I think for me personally it was a great step because dealing with something like that, usually people would sit down and not play,” Howard said. “But I felt like she would want me to go out there and play, and play for her honor, so I was happy that I did that.”
Howard said the last time he visited with his grandmother was during the summer, before he joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA bubble during their championship run.
“I think that it was just hurting that I didn’t get a chance to talk to her before she passed and that was probably the most hurtful part,” Howard said. “I wanted to at least see her, talk to her one more time before she died.
“She watched all my games. ... She really enjoyed watching me play.”
He recalled living a few hours from his grandmother growing up and visiting her during the summers, when there was plenty of hoops action.
“I grew up playing basketball right outside her house,” Howard said. “Her neighbor had put a basketball goal on the tree right outside the front of her house and we would go to her house and play basketball and she was just watching us all day.”
Originally, the basket was attached to a house, but Howard broke that dunking, so he said it had to be put on a tree, where it was more stable.
Howard also fondly recalls how his grandmother always provided snacks for the youngsters playing.
“I got my candy addiction from my grandma and granddad. They would always bring me and my brother a big bucket of candy every time we came up there, so while we were playing basketball, I would go grab some candy and go back outside and play basketball all day,” Howard said. “She would be the one who would give me the candy, so I won’t forget that.”
As sad as he is for his loss, he finds a level of comfort in having many great memories of his grandmother.
“I remember her telling me that she was so proud of me and happy for me to see me play basketball and she watched my whole career,” Howard recalled. “She had almost every picture in her room of me growing up, and everyone was just telling me how much she loved me and how much I meant to her. I am very thankful that she loved me so much despite having tons and tons of grandkids. She really took her time out with me.”