LOS ANGELES: File photo shows Dwight Howard #39 of the Los Angeles Lakers argues his foul call with referee David Guthrie #16 during the first quarter at Staples Center on February 21, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. —AFP

LOS ANGELES: Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard says he will play when the NBA season resumes in Orlando on July 30 despite concerns the restart might distract from his social activism. Howard announced his decision to join LeBron James and his other Laker teammates in a CNN appearance late Monday, citing his contract and his hunger to win an NBA crown at age 34.

“Yes, I will be joining my team in Orlando, but during that time we will be getting a lot of work done,” Howard said of mixing his NBA goals with his activism. Howard said he will donate his salary from the restart, about $700,000, to his Breathe Again charity. This season, Howard has averaged 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots a game for the Lakers, who led the Western Conference at 49-14 when the NBA season was shut down March 11 after Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

“I feel like we have a great opportunity, the Lakers do, for winning the title this year,” Howard said. “I have an obligation. I have a contractual obligation to my teammates, to my fans, the Lakers, the and everyone. But at the same time I also have an obligation to my family and my community.” Howard said last month that he might sit out, saying the NBA season restart in a bubble at Disney World in Orlando might distract from the a growing movement against police brutality and racism in the wake of unarmed black man George Floyd’s killing while in police custody in May.

The Lakers, powered by James and Anthony Davis, are expected to remain title contenders despite the absence of guard Avery Bradley, whose concern over how coronavirus issues would impact at-risk family members will keep him from playing when the season resumes.

Howard, the top overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, is an eight-time NBA All-Star but has never won a league title as he nears the end of his 16th season. Howard, a member of the 2008 US Olympic gold medal squad, spent his first eight seasons with the Orlando Magic and has since played for Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington and the Lakers. —AFP