By David J. Neal, McClatchy Newspapers –
MIAMI — In the champagne-drenched Heat locker room Thursday night, a full-circle moment happened for Juwan Howard.
Howard hugged ESPN NBA analyst and retired player Jalen Rose, then stood with arms around shoulders answering questions. Rose and Howard came to national prominence together as members of the University of Michigan’s Fab Five, the 1991 freshman class. Here, at the end of Howard’s 18th and possibly final NBA season, they could enjoy what none of the Fab Five had been able to achieve beyond high school.
“We did it for my boys, too,” Howard said Monday. “We won this ring for the Michigan Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Thank you, Miami. Thank you, Mr. (Micky) Arison, Coach (Pat) Riley, Coach (Erik) Spoelstra, his staff. But, more importantly, my teammates, our family members with their unconditional support, without them we couldn’t have done this.”
As a group, the Fab Five were too inexperienced to beat Duke in the 1992 NCAA Final and too deficient to beat North Carolina the following year. Rose started all 80 regular-season games for Indiana in 1999-2000, but the Pacers lost the NBA championship series to the Lakers. Two years later, Weber and Sacramento had the eventual champion Lakers one game from elimination in the Western Conference finals and didn’t finish the job.
But, as a veteran voice at the end of the Heat bench, Howard did. He was even on the court as the Finals final seconds ticked away.
“Our guys have so much respect for Juwan Howard,” Spoelstra said Thursday night. “With five minutes to go Dwyane (Wade) and Chris (Bosh) and LeBron (James) mentioned in the huddle, ‘Hey, two more minutes, let’s get this thing done so Juwan Howard can get on the court in this game in the Finals to get the championship.’”
Before the end of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, if you exclude celebration shots of the Heat bench, Howard logged less screen time in the playoffs than he did in the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams. More often, Howard stood as the body of reason — getting between Dwyane Wade and Spoelstra against Indiana in Game 3 of the second round, pulling Mario Chalmers away from Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant.
“As you can hear my voice now, I’m hoarse,” Howard said Monday afternoon to the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd during the Heat celebration. “I was always trying to uplift my teammates, just give them that spirit they need. The times I felt they were down, the times they had doubt, I wanted to make sure that I reaffirmed to them that we were going to win it. And sure enough, we did.”
There’s a little irony in Howard getting the ring in Miami.
Back when Howard was young as an NBA player and the Heat was young as an organization, the Heat tried to sign Howard from Washington as a free agent with a seven-year offer sheet worth around $100 million. The NBA rejected that, ruling it a salary-cap violation. By the time the flurry of offers and lawsuits had ended, Howard wound up staying in Washington.
Said Spoelstra: “He’s earned this. We’ll all be working for him some day. He’ll be a GM or a coach, whatever he decides. That’s what he was acting as this year anyway.”