The 34-year-old had just three points in one minute on the court as the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals 106-93 to win a first title in a decade. While Howard’s on-court contribution may have been negligible, the eight-time All-Star stole the show after the game.
As his Lakers teammates celebrated in the locker room, Howard sat in a corner clutching the NBA trophy and delivered an emotional motivational speech during an Instagram live session, in which he spoke passionately about the importance of pursuing one’s own dreams and the dedication required to do so.
“Everybody out there, don’t ever give up on your dreams,” he said.
“You can f**kin do it, I swear! Just keep fighting. I swear, don’t ever give up on yourself. Look at this sh*t [the NBA Trophy that sat next to him].
“Don’t ever give up on yourself. You’re already a champion.”
The first overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, Howard was a cornerstone of the Orlando Magic for eight seasons, before requesting a trade and moving to the Lakers in the summer of 2012. His first spell in the City of Angels, however, was far from ideal. A serious back injury at the end of his final season with the Magic meant Howard was no longer his usual dominant self and he never fully settled in Los Angeles, with rumors of him clashing with Kobe Bryant regularly surfacing throughout the season.
The Lakers were swept in the opening round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs and Howard became a free agent in the summer, declining a five-year, $118 million contract the Lakers had put on the table.
“I hope I get the chance to make it up to you! Thank you L.A.,” he tweeted as he left the Lakers, a message that would prove to be incredibly prescient and that resurfaced on Twitter on Sunday night after the Lakers clinched their 17th NBA title.
After spells with the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards over the past six seasons, Howard made a surprise return to Los Angeles last summer as Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka looked to fill a roster that looked short of depth behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
No longer the star he was during his day in Orlando and Houston, Howard adapted to an altogether different reality and embraced the role of veteran coming off the bench to perfection. He played in 69 regular season games, averaging 7.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 block per game and was a major asset throughout the playoffs, particularly in the first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets during which he averaged 8.4 points and 6.8 rebounds and 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game respectively.
Howard had no qualms to spend long stretches on the bench in the Western Conference Semifinals against Houston and in the NBA Finals, as Lakers coach Frank Vogel opted for smaller lineups.
Howard’s days as Superman may be over, but at long last he has his NBA title.
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