Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard confirmed on Monday that he will be joining the team in Orlando, Florida, as the NBA resumes operations for the first time since the 2019-20 season was paused early in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As quoted by CBS Sports, Howard confirmed his availability for the season restart on Monday night, telling CNN that the Lakers — who lead the Western Conference with a 49-14 record — have a “great opportunity” to win a championship.
“I have a contractual obligation to my teammates, to my fans, the Lakers, the organization and everyone. But at the same time, I also have an obligation to my family and my community,” he continued.
“Yes, I will be joining my team in Orlando, but during that time, we will begin a lot of work here in Atlanta and around the nation as far as making sure people don’t forget about us and what’s going on in our communities.”
Additionally, Howard explained that he will use the salary he earns in the remaining games of the 2019-20 season to promote the “Breathe Again” movement and help raise awareness of causes related to social justice and putting an end to racial inequality in the United States.
As recalled by CBS Sports, Howard’s status for the resumption of the 2019-20 season was largely doubtful last month due to multiple reasons. Along with Lakers teammate Avery Bradley and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, he was among the players who had publicly expressed hesitance to return to the court at a point when people across the U.S. were protesting against police brutality. At that time, the 34-year-old felt that any form of sports or entertainment would distract people from the social justice issues that had to be addressed in the aftermath of Minneapolis man George Floyd’s death while in police custody.
Aside from the above issues, Howard was also dealing with personal loss, as Melissa Rios — the mother of his 6-year-old son — died in March after suffering an epileptic seizure.
According to CBS Sports, Howard’s announcement came at the right moment for the Lakers, who will be entering the season restart without one of their key players, as Bradley chose to sit out in order to spend time with his family. Furthermore, starting center JaVale McGee’s availability might be questionable going forward. Although there haven’t been any signs that his asthma might force him to miss some action, this condition is a factor that puts him at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus.