Dwight Howard: Keep awareness on what's going on outside of the NBA bubble

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Sunday, July 19, 2020

A week and a half into life in the bubble, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard has received attention for his escapades rather than for what's most important to him as the NBA nears its restart: helping his teammates on the court and helping create positive change in the United States.

He has had a hand in the attention, to be clear. Howard told reporters during a video conference call Saturday that he has felt compelled to broadcast his experiences inside the bubble in Orlando, Florida, to his 2.7 million followers on Instagram in order to "give people some positive messages."

Two videos he shared happened to attract unintended scrutiny. In one, posted last weekend, Howard roamed around an empty DJ set, capturing the scene on his phone as he ordered a cocktail from a barren poolside bar. "Dwight told me he was the only one there," Lakers teammate Anthony Davis said the next day.

In the second, Howard revealed that he had been turned in to the NBA Campus Hotline -- aka the "snitch line" -- for not wearing his mask in common areas such as the hotel lobby and player lounges.

As complicit as Howard was in stirring both of those controversies from the very content he provided to the masses, he wanted to steer the focus back to a more substantive subject matter Saturday, including the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician who was shot eight times on March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, by plainclothes officers serving a narcotics search warrant without knocking at her apartment. No drugs were found.

"There's things that have been happening that we still need to discuss," he said. "Breonna Taylor, the people who did the heinous incident against her, they're still free. They're out there living their best life.

"Instead of worrying about if I have my mask on or not, that's something we should be discussing. Why haven't these people been brought in? Why haven't they been charged for anything or even arrested for what they've done? Instead of the topics being about who's not wearing a mask in the bubble, who was at the DJ party, who wasn't, all of these things seem entertaining. But we're not going to forget about what's going on around our world."

However Howard's intended message might have been muddled during the initial days in Florida, the Lakers' big man made a big commitment behind the scenes by pledging the remainder of his 2019-20 salary -- approximately $700,000, according to ESPN NBA front-office insider Bobby Marks -- to his charitable initiative, Breathe Again, before rejoining the Lakers to finish the season.

He spoke at length about three areas that Breathe Again will focus on helping the Black community in his hometown of Atlanta.

Financial literacy

With temperatures regularly in the 90s during summer days in Atlanta, Howard has noticed young entrepreneurs selling bottled water and sports drinks to keep customers cool.

"These Black kids are in the streets selling water and Gatorade, trying to make some money so they can live," Howard said. "But they don't know how to keep that money. They don't know how to save their money. They don't know what to do with that money. So we want to give these guys an outlet. We want to teach these guys how to save their money so when they get older, they can have something to pass on to their kids and to their kids' kids."

Howard, 34, said he is working on a program that will invite children and their parents to classes that will teach savings and investing techniques.

"That is something that has been missing in the Black community," he said. "We want to make sure to push that to the forefront."

Howard was dismayed to share the story of 18-year-old Jalanni Pless, who was shot and killed last month by a competing street merchant over a dispute over a $10 sale of water, according to Pless' mother.

"Ten dollars is what caused Jalanni his life. Ten dollars. Think about that," Tomeka Pless said, according to WXIA-TV.

Howard, understanding the conflicts that can be resolved through financial literacy, lamented the senseless killing.

"Now a precious life has been taken away from these kids trying to do something positive," Howard said. "So I want to take it upon myself, and the rest of the guys in the community, and we want to guide these kids in the right direction."

Agricultural acumen

Howard owns a home on a plot of land encompassing more than 700 acres in north Georgia. And on that land he has a farm where he keeps animals, including cows and pigs, and grows crops.

He wants to give community youths a hands-on experience manning a farm themselves.

"I want to teach these kids about agriculture, how to use the different utensils on the farm," he said. "How to grow, plant, cultivate these different seeds and stuff like that. At my house this summer, I spent some time teaching my kids how to do a lot of different things, and we want to take that same concept and use it with these kids in the inner city."

History lessons

The other area Howard's Breathe Again initiative will focus on is giving Black community members a current-day sense of self and empowerment by offering education on their past.

"We also are going to be teaching the laws and the rights and the history of Black people to these kids," Howard said.

He has already shared some of these stories on his Instagram, from a post about an all-Black professional baseball team, the Cuban Giants, formed in the 1880s to another post about the first African American musicians to hit the mainstream in the early 1900s.

"Giving them some history," Howard said. "Some things that they probably never would have thought about or known, because they were not taught in books."

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Saturday his team hasn't discussed any group demonstrations for when games begin, and that the Lakers have a national television audience to share their messages, including Howard's. "But I do anticipate having those types of conversations," he said.

For Howard, it will be a chance to keep his mission on track.

"A lot of people are paying attention to everything that's going on in the bubble and with all the negativity that can be running rampant around our world, we want to give them some positive insight and basically some positivity during this time," he said. "So that's what I've been doing in this bubble to try to keep myself and my teammates in a great place."

Related Video