Kobe Bryant, coming off two major surgeries, made his return to the NBA Tuesday night, displaying flashes of the skill that has made him an all-time great — and an animus for center Dwight Howard, who bolted the Los Angeles Lakers for the Houston Rockets after one season.
Bryant did not flinch when Howard elbowed him in the jaw with 7:07 left in the game of the Rockets’ blowout win in L.A. Rather, Bryant let out what he had been holding back for more than a year, telling Howard that he was “soft.”
It happened when Howard leaped to grab a rebound, came down and had Bryant in his face. Howard swung his elbows, connecting with his left on Bryant’s jaw. Bryant called Howard “soft” as the players stood face to face. Howard pointed at Bryant and yelled something back as they were separated.
Both were called for a technical foul. Howard also was called for a flagrant one foul and Bryant was called for a foul.
After Howard made two free throws and Bryant made one of two, each took a seat on the bench.
Howard had been booed unmercifully all night and it only increased during his altercation with Bryant.
“They don’t like each other,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said.
Said Bryant, smiling, in a back-handed compliment: “How can you not like (Howard)? He’s a big teddy bear.”
Howard refused to be controversial.
“What do y’all want me to say? I’m going to give y’all nothing. That’s stupid. We won the game. It’s over with. There’s no need to go into it. It’s about basketball.”