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Kobe Bryant says Dwight Howard's reception in Orlando will inevitably be bad, so why worry about it.
Tuesday, Dwight Howard will make his first appearance in Orlando as a member of any team but the Magic. It's a given boos await him, but his response to hostility remains to be seen. How would Kobe Bryant react if in the center's shoes?
"Oh, I'd tear them up," insisted Bryant after Sunday's win over the Chicago Bulls. "It's like me going back to Philadelphia for the (2001) Finals. They hated me for it, but it is what it is. But they'll appreciate him at the end, when his career his all said and done. But right now, no matter what he says, they're gonna boo and they're not gonna like him."
After joking that "boos don't block dunks," Bryant acknowledged the situation will be tough for Howard. Thus, he plans to counsel the big man.
"I'll talk to him about it. Personally, I think he's gonna go out there and play his game. There's nothing he can do say that's gonna alter what they're gonna do. So why bother? The best thing to do is to just go out there, stay focused what we're trying to accomplish, what we're trying to do, and not worry about what happened in Orlando. That's water under the bridge."
I asked Kobe if he thinks Dwight truly understands that concept of not being able to change that reaction.
"It may be tough for him," conceded Bryant. "He's a very, very nice kid, you know what I mean? He wants to say the right thing. He wants to please as many people as he can. And you can't please everybody. I'll talk to him about it a little bit, before we get down to Orlando. Try to put a little bit of that a--hole in him before the game."
Kobe also squashed any similarities to Howard's return and the first time Shaquille O'Neal played against the Magic.
"Shaq didn't give a s---," laughed Bryant.
Hearing Howard talk about Tuesday, the center has clearly resigned himself to being the black hat. But that's not the same thing as being at peace with it. The night will undoubtedly be emotional for Howard, and I'm not entirely convinced he'll be able to channel those feelings in a positive, prolific way. That he'll be matched against Nikola Vucevic, who was both part of the trade and is playing quite well in Orlando, won't make the matters easier.
Either way, however, I think a sense of closure will do wonders for Howard, who I guarantee has thought about this game all season. The schedule-makers did him no favors slotting this game in mid-March, but the Band Aid will finally be ripped off.