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November 05, 2019 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily

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It was a practice just like any other for the

Miami Heat.

The starters were out on the floor running

through their offensive schemes against the

scout team. Among the latter, per usual, was

then-assistant coach Juwan Howard.

Howard, having played 19 years in

the NBA, standing at 6-foot-9 and doing

everything he can to keep in shape, almost

always ran with the scout team in practice.

In a typical pick-and-roll play, Howard

handled the ball at the top of the key. It was

all set to run smoothly — the player came

over to set the pick for Howard who then

dribbled around him to execute the play.

Fighting hard through the screen, guard

Dion Waiters barrelled through the defender

hitting Howard square on the chin, and

cleanly knocking out one of his teeth.

So how did Howard react?

He held his tooth in his hand, waited for

the right moment to head to his office, placed

it down on his desk and resumed practice.


attention, Howard returned to the Heat

facilities later that day to coach that night’s

game. There was even a rotation of the

assistant coaches who had to talk to the

media at halftime, and Howard’s number

was called.

“And I still talked, tooth missing and

everything,” Howard told The Daily. “Why

not? A) we’re gonna make no excuses and B)

you gotta embrace the suck. And that time I

embraced the suck.”

For Howard, the act of palming a

recently-separated tooth and continuing on

business-as-usual was summed up in the

question “Why not?” It was an afterthought

— a testament to his professionalism and


For his players, though, the act revealed a

man who was undeniably committed to the

game, his team and his family.

“When his tooth came out, he didn’t even

come out of the game,” then-Heat guard Josh

Richardson told The Daily. “And I remember

just being like, ‘That’s crazy!’ And we’re all

looking at his tooth like, ‘Uhhhhh, you gonna

get that?’ He just like had it in his hand.”

Tooth in hand, Howard continued down

the road of a transformative time in his

career with the Heat.


If there was one thing the players knew

Howard for as a coach it was energy. Energy,

energy, energy. He would routinely single-

handedly liven up flat practices or get on

guys for not showing an attitude up to his


And typically, he did that the only way

he knew how: by being vocal and playing


Talk to former players on those Heat

rosters and they will regale you with tales

of ‘17’ — the nickname given to Howard by

LeBron James for his 17 years (really 19) in

the NBA. They recount stories from practice

where Howard, unlike nearly all other

assistant coaches, would run with the scout

team and do everything he could to dunk on

players often 10-plus years younger than him

or block their shots.

And the team loved it. Vociferously

screaming, “Get that shit out of here!” after

registering a block or dunking right on

a guy’s head, Howard would revel in the

team’s cheers.

Walking in the building every morning,

Howard made sure everyone knew where

the level of energy was going to be that day

— as high as it could possibly be. Getting

excited about things as banal as a cup of

coffee, Howard would bellow, “Got my

coffee today!” strolling down the halls of the


Howard’s honesty also enamored his


As an assistant with the Heat, Howard’s

official responsibilities included developing

the big men on the roster and optimizing

defense. In these efforts, Miami’s centers

Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are

testaments to that.

Ask either one and they will be quick to

point to Howard’s honesty as a trait that sets

him apart. He will tell you like it is every

time regardless of whether it’s something

you want to hear or not.


Adebayo said. “He never

lied to me. He never ran

away from the fact that I

needed to hear something,

he would say it, he never

shied away from that.

And I feel like that’s what

really brought me closer to

Juwan was that he was so

honest with me.”

Added Whiteside: “He

was like the guy that’s like,

if there are guys playing

around or something, he’ll let ’em know. He’d

say, ‘You’re not taking this serious,’ or he’d

let you know. I mean he was just honest. He’d

keep it to you straight every time.”

For almost all of Howard’s Miami

coaching stint, he was just an assistant.

Assigned to player development and defense,

he was never able to use his leadership skills

as the man in charge. That is, until the 2016

Summer League rolled around.

Each year, each NBA team selects one

of the assistant coaches to lead its Summer

League roster in early competition. In 2016,

it was Howard’s time.

It was Howard’s first time ever serving

in a head coach position. In many ways, it

was the perfect opportunity for the young

coach — an ability to get his feet wet with the

position without being completely thrown to

the wolves.

While he wasn’t reinventing the wheel

or tasked with redesigning Heat concepts,

Howard was able to learn some of the

minutiae of the position — how to talk in

timeouts, who to call on when games are

getting close, how to scream on the sidelines.

“He defined guys’ roles early, and I think

that was good for a coach to be able to do

that,” said Richardson, one of the key players

on that Summer League

team. “He would give good

speeches, get his message

across, and he’s a good

speaker in front of guys,

and I know that’s probably

tough in your first coaching

job having to give an

opening speech at training

camp, or having to be the

guy talking to the team

every timeout and stuff

like that, but I think he did

a great job navigating that

for the first time.”

The Heat would place fourth that year,

going 3-2 through the tournament.

But Howard left with something far more

valuable than the trophy — confidence in

his ability to become the head coach of a

basketball team someday.

“It taught me a lot in that I enjoyed the

experience, I learned from it,” Howard said.

“I left there that summer thinking, ‘You

know, I can be a head coach in this league.’ It

gave me a vote of confidence.”

Before that, Howard had had no problem

being vocal. No experience talking to a team

with the title of “head coach,” sure, but he’s

always been a leader in the locker room.

And no one recognized that more than

Daily Sports Writer

He’ll give you
the shirt off his
back, that’s the
type of person
he is.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019 // TIPOFF 2019

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