So, what's to blame for a totally innocuous comment by Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas getting blown up and passed down the grapevine as incriminating evidence that Dwight Howard and James Harden are aloof and alienate the rest of their teammates? Laziness, or malice, or just a really slow news day when something needed to be controversial?
1) The Tweet.
2) The local report. CBS Houston wrote about the tweet, quoting "even eat separately" in its headline, even though that would turn out not to be an actual quote.
"This should do wonders," the story eye-rolled, "for concerns about Dwight Howard, James Harden and their chemistry with their Houston Rockets teammates."
(CBS Houston has since updated their story to better reflect Motiejunas's words.)
3) The defense. Around this time, Howard and Harden started hearing it online from fans. Howard, at least, went into defensive mode. (Harden doesn't play defense.)
4) The national reports. SI.com ran with it under the headline "James Harden, Dwight Howard don't eat with team." ("Hints at chemistry issues," read an earlier headline.)
Bleacher Report got ahold of it, garnering 275,000 hits (Jesus!) on a story from its National NBA Featured Columnist with this tut-tutting lede:
Dwight Howard and James Harden's leadership skills just continue to come under fire.
Typically, you'd expect the two stars on a team to involve the rest of the roster. You'd want them to take the young players—and the experienced veterans who are fulfilling specific roles—under their wings and help them grow, both as players and as people.
But such isn't the case for the Houston Rockets.
5) The truth. On a Reddit thread about the initial Tweet, a Lithuanian user went back and listened to the actual radio interview the "quote" was from. And transcribed it a little better—or at least a little fuller. Here's what Donatas Motiejunas actually said:
Q: When communicating with Howard and Harden, what do you talk about?
A: Basically I say just "Hello" and "Goodbye" to them.
Q: They don't invite you to barbecue or something?
A: No, they eat different food than me.
Q: What? Do you mean they eat oysters?
A: No... being European, I am more likely to eat oyster than them. They eat fast food.
And later in the same interview:
Q: You once said to Dwight Howard "Catch me if you can". Did he reacted to this saying in any way?
A: Yeah, we sometimes make jokes about it during practice. He is a fun guy to be around in general. He is the soul of the team, someone who is fun to have in a locker room.
A "Dwight Howard is 'the soul of the team'" headline doesn't get 275,000 hits. Which I get. It's August; we're all having a rough go of it.