CHICAGO -- If you’ve been a basketball star in Chicago sometime in the last 25 years, you’ve likely shared a court with Juwan Howard.
Derrick Rose has played Howard in the NBA. Rose’s older brother Reggie played Howard in high school. UIC coach Howard Moore played against Howard in high school and college. From Terry Cummings to Tim Hardaway to Kevin Garnett to Quentin Richardson to Dwyane Wade to Eddy Curry to Julian Wright to Evan Turner, Howard has played them all at one point.
Howard, now a reserve forward for the Miami Heat, has been running up and down NBA courts for 17 seasons, and he’s been doing it in Chicago even longer. Chicago has been his home from his birth to today.
“I was born and raised here,” Howard said on Tuesday before the Heat’s practice. “My family lives here, and I love the city.”
Howard grew up on Chicago’s South Side and starred at Vocational High School where he faced the likes of Taft’s Howard Moore, Hubbard’s Reggie Rose, Westinghouse’s Kiwane Garris and King’s Rashard Griffith. While he played his college basketball at Michigan and his NBA career has taken him all over, he still has returned to Chicago every offseason to reside and train.
“Chicago has an exceptional amount of basketball history dating back before we started playing,” Howard said. “I know guys like Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings, those guys inspired us. I know they inspired me. I wanted to grow up and follow in their footsteps.”
Where once others drove Howard, he now does the same today for Chicago’s youth. Through basketball camps, book clubs and the Juwan Howard Foundation, Howard is constantly giving back to the community in which he grew up.
“Here’s a kid who didn’t forget where he comes from,” said UIC assistant coach Donnie Kirksey, who has known Howard since he was in seventh grade. “He doesn’t forget those same neighborhoods, same programs, same AAU teams that helped him get through. Him giving back and touch some kids is very important to him.”
Moore and Kirksey caught up with Howard on Monday and Tuesday while the Heat practiced at UIC’s practice facility. Moore still won’t forgive Howard for ending his high school career with a 26-point, 10-rebound performance in the city quarterfinals in 1990.
“He was always a good guy, but competed hard and always wanted to win,” Moore said. “He wanted to kick your tail. Off the court, he’d give you a hug and a handshake. On the court, he’d try to embarrass you and kick your tail and win.”
That competitive streak has been in place throughout Howard’s career. Whether it was Taft in the city playoffs, Duke in the NCAA tournament or currently the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals, Howard wants to win just as bad.
Although Howard’s role in the NBA has drastically changed from when he was an all-star with the Washington Bullets in 1995 to this season during which he’s averaged 5.8 minutes in five playoff games, he still weighs his season on what his team has achieved.
“I’m all about team, so my season’s correlated to the team’s success,” said Howard, who turned 38 in February. “So far, I feel like we have done a good job thus far, but our job is not done and neither is mine.
“It’s so funny the media and sometimes the fans sort of think as a player gets older and you become a veteran, winning becomes more important. ... Winning was important to me when I was rookie. That’s just part of my DNA.”
Playoff success has eluded Howard throughout his career. He reached the second round with the Dallas Mavericks in 2001. He was eliminated in the first round playing with the Bullets in 1997, Houston Rockets in 2007, Mavericks in 2008 and Portland Trail Blazers in 2010.
After signing with the Heat in the offseason, Howard has now been presented with his best opportunity to win a title.
“The most important thing has been winning a championship, so I haven’t done that,” Howard said. “I feel like we have a good chance.”
Howard claimed a title isn’t the reason he’s still playing. He also admitted he would like to see his oldest son Juwan Jr. play more in person. Juwan Jr. will be a sophomore forward at Western Michigan next season.
“I don’t know,” Howard said of retirement. “We’ll see. I can’t foresee what’s going to happen in the future. I’m taking it one day at a time. Hopefully, I’ll continue to have good health.”
Juwan Jr. hopes his dad continues playing. Not many college players can say their father is in the NBA.
“Me as a basketball player, I want to see him keep playing basketball,” said Juwan Jr., who was named to the MAC all-freshman team. “I want him to be happy. He still works hard and is still in great shape. I know he still beats a lot of the players on the court during the summers.”
Howard’s health and fitness have kept him going for 17 NBA seasons while plenty of other players have come and gone. Although Howard has experienced some luck in that respect, he’s also taken care of his body. Throughout his career, Howard has returned to Chicago in the offseason to work out with trainer Tim Grover and his staff at ATTACK Athletics.
“What’s most impressive about Juwan is his professionalism and his work ethic,” ATTACK Athletics director of basketball operations Mike Procopio said. “It’s just a mindset. He’s very focused. He comes to work. He’s professional with the staff. He’s professional with the people around him. If he’s working out with another guy, he’s very good at teaching angles and spots.”
Professionalism is the one word most associated with Howard. Moore and Kirksey said it. Juwan Jr. described his dad with it.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also used it.
“[He’s been] invaluable,” Spoelstra said. “He has the respect of the staff and the players enough to really be a honorary captain. He’s not title, but people treat him with that respect. What he says holds weight.
“He’s been through a lot. He’s been an all-star. He’s been a role player. He’s been on great teams. He’s been on poor teams. He’s seen it all. All of his experiences and true professionalism really help this group in particular.”
The professionalism, the work ethic, the competitiveness – all of it is still driven by what he learned from his earliest days of playing in Chicago. And now, he’s witnessing another Chicagoan carry that forward.
“Passion and love for the game,” Howard said. “That was something that was instilled in me from Day 1 as a kid growing up, wanting to play in the NBA.