Dwight Howard spent Christmas Day in Memphis at the home of then-Houston Rockets teammate Tarik Black.
However, when word spread before Friday morning’s shootaround that Black, an undrafted rookie, was waived by the Rockets to clear roster room for veteran Josh Smith, Howard was among those stunned by the news.
“Personally, it was very tough for me,” Howard said, when asked about Black’s unceremonious departure from the team. “You know, Tarik is my guy. We’ve spent a lot of time together away from basketball. We’ve been to church a lot together, Bible study, all that stuff. So Tarik is like a little brother to me. I was very sad when I heard the news. But I also understand this is a business.”
Fortunately for Black, a former Memphis Ridgeway High star, his time away from the NBA lasted less than 48 hours. That’s because on Sunday, 6-foot-11 forward was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Lakers and is expected to make his debut with the team Tuesday night in Denver.
Although Howard and Rockets coach Kevin McHale weren’t surprised the 23-year-old Black was ultimately acquired by another team, Howard said Black’s presence in the locker room is what he will miss the most.
“I am going to miss him as a teammate,” Howard said. “He worked hard every day in practice. He battled.”
After playing his final collegiate season at Kansas, Black joined the Rockets before the start of Summer League play and made a favorable impression on McHale and his staff. After officially signing with Houston on August 27, Black appeared in 25 regular-season games for the Rockets before he was let go hours before what was expected to be a much-anticipated homecoming.
“That was a hard thing,” said McHale who spoke with Black moments after the team informed him of its decision. “Tarik did a great job for us. He did the one thing for us. It was during the preseason. I told him, ‘Tarik, you’ve got to go open people’s eyes. You didn’t get drafted.’ But he came in and he had 15 rebounds in a game. And I said everyone in the league is saying, ‘Dang, what did we miss on Tarik Black?’ People know who he is and he’s on people’s radar. He’s a great kid. I really loved coaching him. He’s wonderful young man. We’re going to miss him. But sometimes, we make moves and things happen.”
After being claimed off waivers by the Lakers, Black immediately took to his Twitter account Sunday: “To the fans of the Lakers, I am honored and can’t wait to get to work. Hopefully I can help this team and you guys will enjoy the process.”
Howard, who elected not to contact Black after learning the Rockets had parted ways with him, reached out to Black late Friday night following Houston’s overtime win at Memphis. Still, the eight-time All-Star said because Black is no longer with the team is difficult to stomach.
Prior to transferring to Kansas for the 2013-14 season, Black played three seasons at the University of Memphis from 2010-2013.
“I’m going to miss his little sayings in practice…’Wow’ and ‘Here we go,’” Howard said of Black. “I used to practice his little lines every day. It’s tough to see him go. Like I said, he meant a lot to me. He was a really good teammate. He was a really good guy.”
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.