My freshman year of college, I was introduced to a particular phrase that essentially shamed me into manning up and doing what was necessary.
That particular phrase was, "Don't be a bitch, do it right now!" Peer pressure at its finest. It was often yelled into my ear by my roommate, Matt. Even worse, once Matt uttered that phrase, the entire room would chant it until the desired action was completed. Similar to one Slayer fan yelling out, "Slayer!" followed by any Slayer fan within earshot also yelling out, "Slayer!" this phrase would induce a chain reaction. 10 people pounding on a table and yelling, "Don't be a bitch, do it right now!" was enough of a motivator for me, or anyone else. While playing games of land mines and pyramids, drinking games that would often make me regret my actions, that phrase would become a landmark.
My most memorable game of pyramids would be the first time I went on a road trip with Matt up to Lodi in Northern California. We decided to visit a friend of his about a week or so before our sophomore year at UCSB. While there, we eventually played a game of pyramids. I was informed the next day that soon after I left the room for a final bathroom break before the game started, Matt, a cunning individual, decided to inform the other four players to assign all of their drinks to me. Let's just say, I drank a copious amount of beer that night, and I felt absolutely horrible the following morning. What made me gut through it and not quit on the game? "Don't be a bitch, do it right now!" My pride was on the line, and I was not going to wimp out in front of four people I had never met before that night.
While my drinking tales from college certainly don't give me any right to question Dwight Howard's toughness, a certain quote from Kobe Bryant surely does. With Pau Gasol likely out for a month — or even the rest of the season — after possibly tearing his fascia against the Brooklyn Nets this past Tuesday, Bryant stated, "I'm very, very concerned to say the least." Bryant followed that statement with a challenge to Howard, stating, "He's probably worried about the damage in his shoulder. I don't think he's ever had to play through injuries in his career. I think it's a new experience for him."
Elaborating on the statement, Bryant continued, "When I was growing up, going through high school and middle school, unfortunately, but fortunately, I dealt with injuries. Not injuries that were debilitating, but injuries you have to play through where you have to manage the pain. When you go through those things, you learn your body and what you can push through." Sounds an awful lot like a certain mantra pointed at me, doesn't it? Different words, same message. Bryant wants Howard to gut through the pain. As NFL players always state, there's a difference between being hurt, and being injured.
Bryant continued, "But Dwight has never been hurt. The [back injury last season] was debilitating and he couldn't play. When you have an injury that hurts you, but you can play through it, that's something you have to balance out and manage, and he's never really had to do that."
Well, now, Howard has to do that. While on his recent ESPN crusade, Howard sounded an awful lot like someone with one foot out the door. While giving statements like, "There's no need for a circus," Howard wouldn't give a definitive statement regarding his offseason uncertainty. Listen, we all know it is best for Howard's sake to wait until the offseason and then sign with the Lakers in order to receive a maximum contract deal, however, it sure would be nice if Howard gave any sort of indication that he actually wants to play for a franchise that has the second most championships in NBA history. Instead, Howard gives statements such as, "Getting to the playoffs, and winning to the championship," as his goal for this season, yet he counters that sentiment with, "I don't want to have this happen every week or two to where I'm fine and then I take a hard hit and I reaggravate it."
Well, which is it? Are you committed to winning, or are you worried about getting injured and not landing that maximum contract? I think it's pretty clear. Howard is consumed with his own personal future. Howard's torn labrum injury is something that can be played with. It is an injury that will be a problem until he has surgery and recovers. What does he expect? Does he think he can rest a few games and then be healthy? Seriously, what is going through this guy's head? This torn labrum injury isn't going anywhere, and if the Lakers, winners of six of the last seven games, have any shot at the postseason, and a deep run from there, Howard needs to play, especially if Gasol is out for an extended period. Howard is going to get paid no matter what, so he might as well suck it up and play. With the Lakers three games under .500, and 3.5 games behind the 8th seed Houston Rockets, Howard's talent is a necessity for this team to avoid the label of "Biggest Failure in NBA History."
For further proof, take a look at Bryant. Bryant led the Lakers to victory against the Nets on Tuesday despite playing with a sprained elbow on his shooting arm. Bryant spoke of numbness throughout his arm, especially after he turned back the clock and dunked over Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries with just just under three minutes remaining in the game to give the Lakers a two point lead. Despite the injury, Bryant gutted it out and led the Lakers to an impressive 92-83 victory on the road without Howard, a suspended Metta World Peace, and Gasol (in the final minutes).
Even further, Bryant has played with Howard's injury! Howard certainly doesn't want to hear it, even scoffing at the notion with the statement, "Me and Kobe play two different positions, the position I play, I use a lot of force coming up." Howard continues his statement, but it's a bunch of excuses. Want to know what Bryant did with his torn labrum? He injured it on this ridiculous dunk in Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first round of the playoffs in 2003. For the next seven games, Bryant played with the injury, and he averaged 32.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.3 assists on 44.9% shooting from the field and 41.5% from deep. That postseason, the Lakers came within one Robert Horry three-point shot of possibly four-peating. Instead, the Lakers lost in six games to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in the second round, and Bryant sat on the bench in the closing minutes with tears in his eyes.
While seven games is nowhere near the amount of games Howard will have to gut through, it's clear that Bryant was willing to give his all for a chance to win the title. Once the season ended, Bryant underwent surgery on his torn labrum. Obviously, Bryant feels that Howard should take the same route.
So what is Howard's plan? If he doesn't want to get hurt any further, then go under the knife and get it over with. Otherwise, play through the pain. Bryant did it, and if you are committed to this team, then you must do it. Bryant certainly expects so, as does all of Los Angeles. Howard is going to get paid a fat contract no matter what happens, so he might as well play.
My tales of drinking certainly don't qualify my opinion, but the message sent from my friends mirrors the sentiment held inside the Lakers' locker room. Essentially, that message is a catch phase that has been attached to the greatest athletes of all-time, "Just do it."
Howard has been told that he can't structurally injure the labrum any further, so pain tolerance is the only issue. Bryant spoke of playing with pain in his middle school days, Howard is unwilling to play with pain as a multi-millionaire in the NBA. What more can you say?
Play the role of returning hero, Dwight, it'd be a nice change. Los Angeles wants to embrace you, Kobe wants to hand the franchise to you, give us, give him, give the Lakers a chance.
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