LOS ANGELES -- There have been many times over the course of this season when one could have wished to be a fly on the wall in the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room, their training room or even the Buss family living room.
The moments are far too many to number at this point and in the aftermath of the season just blend together like a marathon showing of “Jersey Shore.”
But perhaps the most fascinating moment came Sunday night as Dwight Howard was inexcusably ejected from a game in which he was one of only two players from the Lakers’ regular rotation able to walk.
Howard already had received a technical in the first half for complaining about a call, then picked up a second technical a little less than two minutes into the third quarter with the Lakers down 55-34. Many Lakers fans hadn’t even made it back to their seats from halftime as Howard walked back to the locker room.
Less than two minutes after Howard's ejection, Kobe Bryant, who was watching the game from the Lakers’ locker room, was making his way to the Lakers’ bench on crutches.
He didn’t want to be a distraction to the team but wanted to be as close to them as possible. He was at the Lakers’ facility for practices and shootarounds, but disappeared before the media were allowed in. He also was in the locker room and training room at Staples Center before and after home games, but was nowhere to be found when the doors opened for the media.
His reaction in the locker room after Dwight’s ejection was no doubt priceless and deserved a string of hashtag-laced tweets, had he not sworn off Twitter posts during games after it became a distraction in the aftermath of Game 1 in San Antonio.
Howard said by the time he got to the locker room, Bryant wasn’t there and he had no idea he had walked out onto the court. Maybe Bryant wanted to be as far away from Howard as possible after his boneheaded decisions and lackluster performance (seven points, five turnovers and eight rebounds) and the furthest he could get without leaving was actually limping toward the bench.
Maybe Bryant just wanted to give the Lakers, down 58-37 with 8:47 left in the third quarter, some inspiration or the fans something to cheer about. But aside from a momentary standing ovation, a short “M-V-P!” chant and an even shorter 7-2 Lakers’ run, that was about it.
Bryant was like a hobbled coach sitting behind the bench. He would get up and lean on his crutches as he yelled instructions at Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, then whispered in their ears when they sat down in front of him.
“He’s always coaching,” Goudelock said. “I’m like a dog when I’m listening to him talk. My ears stand straight up. You can’t teach the things he’s been through.
“I think he thought we felt a little push, a little motivation, a little something to get the crowd into it. I think he did that, but it’s just tough.”
Bryant wouldn’t talk after the game and isn’t scheduled to address the media after exit interviews on Monday and Tuesday. As he sat in the back of a golf cart and was asked about Howard being ejected, Bryant laughed as the cart sped away while reporters chased after him.
Howard probably wished he were able to speed away in the back of a cart as he was once again noncommittal about his future with the Lakers and unaware that Bryant walked out onto the court almost as soon as Howard left the court.
“I haven’t seen him,” Howard said. “I didn’t see him. I didn’t even know he went out there.”
Either Howard wasn’t being totally honest or he simply checked out of the game as soon as he was ejected and didn’t care what his team did in the second half and was immune to why the crowd was cheering moments after he left. Either way, it wasn’t a good look.
The beginning of the Lakers’ offseason will begin the relentless debate about Howard and Bryant’s relationship, which Howard hates talking about almost as much as his plans for next season.
"We've had a pretty good relationship before I got here and I think a lot of people twisted a lot of things,” Howard said. “The fake fights that people said we supposedly had, we maintained a pretty good relationship and we'll continue to be here for him throughout a process that he has to go through recovering from his Achilles."
There had been a feeling that perhaps Bryant’s injury may have brought the two players together. Howard visited Bryant in the locker room and at his house, and he made sure other players visited him, as well.
"I don't think that we were that far apart [before Bryant's injury],” Howard said. “We're not best friends, but like I said, I want to be there for him. Having an injury is a tough thing to deal with alone, and I just want to be there for him as a brother before anything.”
Whether Howard will be there for him next season as a teammate, as well, or whether the two crossed paths at Staples Center for the last time as Lakers on Sunday won’t be known anytime soon. That decision will just be the next episode in what has become Hollywood’s most interesting reality show.