We know Howard can play, but there's little value in what he has to say

Dallas forward Josh Howard stands for "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a Mavericks game in April. Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Josh Howard may not be the Dallas Mavericks' best player, but he's their most complete player. He has a better post-up game than Dirk Nowitzki and better all-around skills than anyone else on their roster. Until six months ago he was universally recognized as the Mavs' best chance at capturing a championship, so much so that seemingly every team in the National Basketball Association inquired about his availability.

Now he's known these days as the franchise's resident idiot, someone who is gainfully employed solely because of his ability to bounce and shoot a basketball. A character seemingly destined to embarrass his way into exile from a league that's garnered him millions of dollars because he won't stop perpetuating his ignorance and hostility to the masses, simultaneously casting an ominous shadow over his contemporaries.

A show of hands from any NBA player out there who's inclined to invite Josh Howard to his next shindig? Thought so!

Allen Iverson couldn't be reached Thursday for an explanation as to why Howard would use Iverson's annual flag-football event as a forum for vulgarly disrespecting America's national anthem. I am not surprised. Who on earth would want to associate themselves with the radioactive Howard right now?

For those who didn't see the story, Howard -- against the backdrop of a presidential election rife with banter about patriotism and heightened sensitivities -- decided Iverson's event was the appropriate venue at which to express his disdain for the anthem. Speaking to a cell phone camera while others around him respectfully stood in recognition, Howard provided an on-camera cameo that went something like this: "'The Star-Spangled Banner' is going on. I don't celebrate this [expletive]. I'm black …"

This is the same Josh Howard who, upon entering the NBA draft, caused trepidation and damaged his draft status once word got out that he'd had issues with marijuana during his days as a Demon Deacon.

This is the Josh Howard who validated those concerns last spring when he inexplicably turned into the NBA's version of Honest Abe and admitted to the Dallas Morning News that he was quite fond of smoking dope. The guy who stupidly implicated his NBA colleagues by saying most of them actually do, too.

Now Howard has the audacity to publicly challenge America's affinity to its own anthem, clearly oblivious to all the eyes that will be on him the 82 times each season he'll be expected to stand up for it. That's not to mention the awkwardness his ignorance places upon players, the league, and, in particular, loquacious Mavs owner Mark Cuban once the 2008 NBA season arrives.

"I have no comment," Cuban said Thursday via e-mail, moonwalking away in classic Michael Jackson fashion.

"All I can tell you about is the Josh Howard I've come to know," said new Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, speaking as he prepared to depart on a flight from Winston-Salem, N.C. after just spending the past few days with Howard. "Josh has been working extremely hard on his game. He's getting better every single day. He may not be our very best player, but he's certainly our most important player. I can speak about him in that regard and can tell you, from what I know, he's about doing whatever he can to help this franchise."

If only Howard took that the same approach toward representation of the African-American community!

Whether or not Howard is sensitive to whatever plights exist regarding African-Americans is not for me or anyone else to say definitively, because none of us are flies on his wall. In Howard's world, he may think he's being sensitive to black people and what plagues this community, and that may have been what he was aiming for in spewing his rhetoric.

But what Howard doesn't seem to get -- and he's joined in this by some members of the hip-hop and entertainment community, or anyone black willing to disseminate and perpetuate perspectives devoid of facts -- is the damage their moments of exasperating expression ultimately costs the very people they believe they're looking out for.

It has to stop now.

Howard is not a spokesperson for the Democratic presidential candidate, despite offering some unclear message about "Obama" to that little cell phone camera.

He's not former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who in 1996 refused to stand for the national anthem, citing religious reasons.

Instead, he's simply an athlete so busy spreading his rhetoric, he hasn't taken into account the collateral damage it could potentially cause.

Fresh off the heels of a fantastic summer in Beijing, where the NBA clearly established itself as the architect of globalization in sports, we now return to the American sports world, where juvenile behavior reigns. Where an individual such as Howard can expect to earn $21.8 million over the next two years despite having essentially admitted to violating league rules by smoking weed in his off time. Where a league and its fans sit in utter disgust at Howard's apparent lack of appreciation.

I seriously doubt that Howard will see himself in that light.

Once upon a time, Howard was considered quiet and timid. It was only after the checks got cashed and his future was secured did Howard reportedly once reveal: "I think like a Democrat but because of my tax bracket, I'm a Republican."

One could easily ask just how such a statement benefits anyone other than himself. Then again, that would be an exercise in futility. After all, to ask would be to presume Howard cares.

Since he opened his mouth, we know better.

Stephen A. Smith is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.