Commentary

Dwight Howard in a good place

Lakers center has felt reflective since Buss' death and has found a new vision

Updated: February 23, 2013, 3:37 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- He met him once and tried to glean what he could. But former Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss was already very sick when Dwight Howard went to visit him this fall in the hospital where Buss would ultimately die.

And so Howard had a singular focus Thursday afternoon when he attended Buss' memorial service.

"It might sound like I didn't care, but I really wasn't paying attention to who was in the room," Howard said after the Lakers' 111-107 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night at Staples Center. "I was really just listening to everything that was said about Dr. Buss and what kind of person he was.

[+] EnlargeDwight Howard
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesDwight Howard had another stellar performance with 19 points and 16 rebounds in the Lakers' narrow win over the Blazers on Friday.

"He left a legacy. I was thinking the whole service -- I want to be how Jerry Buss was. He changed this city. Those are things I want people to say about me when I leave this earth."

Not a lot of kind things have been said about Howard these past two seasons. He has been called immature and selfish. He has alienated fans in Orlando and Los Angeles with his words and his actions.

But as he sat in a star-studded audience Thursday afternoon listening to the impact one man can have on the world, something seemed to crystallize in Howard's mind. A vision for himself. An affirmation of his values. Perhaps even reason for all that he has been through these past two years.

"There's a lot of negative things that take place in the world," Howard said. "I would like to see positive things happen as well. There's a lot of negativity always going around. I don't think it's good. I think as role models we have the opportunities to change the perception, make people have a more positive outlook on life. I just hate negativity. I hate being around it. I hate anybody that's not positive."

So what does he hope his legacy will be?

"My legacy? Well ... Great man. Changed the world," Howard said. "Somebody that never let things that people attacked him with change who he was as a person and a player. I believe I can do that. Motivate a city and a team to win. That's what he did. I'm going to continue look at [Dr. Buss] and guys who did something special like that. Phil Jackson, all the guys who won. It's all about winning."

It was moment of genuine introspection. A moment when you thought that maybe something had changed in Howard as he sat in that audience Thursday afternoon, listening to legends tell stories of a great man.

It might be a coincidence. But the fact that this moment has come after Howard's best two games as a Laker -- he had 19 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in the Lakers' win over the Blazers on Friday -- feels as if it means something.

Did Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak's show of unconditional support for him Wednesday morning touch him?

Did Buss' legacy?

It's hard to say what combination of emotions and self-reflection brought Howard to this place. But listening to him talk Friday, it felt as if the place he was in was a good one.

He took ownership of his failures. He acknowledged his responsibilities to this team and the Lakers franchise.

"I think it starts with me," Howard said with surprising candor. "I have to really come out every night with the same intensity and the same effort. When I get tired, I can ask coach to take me out. I think it starts with me. I have to do a better job of playing hard. I'm going to try."

He sounded different. Genuine. Connected. Changed.

"All I could think about [Thursday at Buss' memorial] was his legacy, what he stood for, how he changed the whole culture of the NBA, sports, L.A.," Howard said. "It meant a lot to me to hear what people were saying about him and thinking about everything I've seen since I've been here, since I've been a Laker."

It was one nice moment at the end of an emotional week. One night. One game.

But if he really means it, there could be many more.