Juwan Howard's Veteran Lessons
There is simply no substitute for experience. In this way, the NBA is no different than any line of work.
Those with the savvy and knowhow gained from seasons upon seasons of experience manage to stick around despite the yearly influx of youth. Rookies can’t fake the things vets know.
So, while surely there were players available who could run faster or jump higher, few could provide the experience gleaned by Juwan Howard - 1,064 games worth, fifth among active players – during 16 seasons with seven teams (nine if you count playing for the Nuggets and Mavericks on two separate occasions).
An important acquisition for the Trail Blazers this offseason, Howard brought his game, but he also brought wisdom. The 38-year-old serves as the Trail Blazers walking, talking how-to manual on professional conduct.
Take care of mind …
If you’ve got the talent to make an NBA roster, that probably means, at one point in time, you were the best player on your high school, college or international club team. You are accustomed to playing big minutes and taking big shots.
That changes for most players when they get into the league. Not only are you not the best player on your team, you’re not even the best player at your position.
“You’ve just got to stay ready. You never know when your name is going to be called,” Howard said. “You have to approach every game like you’re going to play, prepare like you’re going to get 40 minutes out there.
“You also have to stay focused on what is happening out there on the court, not allow your mind to drift. If you get caught up in what’s going on out in the stands or what’s going on tonight after the game, you’ve let your team down. You’ve got to stay focused and know the game plan,” Howard said.
… and body
Having played 34,692 regular season minutes in the NBA, the ninth-most among active players, he knows the vicissitudes of playing minutes big and small.
Whereas a lack of playing time can affect a player’s mental preparation, dealing with an excess of minutes tends to pose more physical challenges. Running and jumping on hardwood, blows to elbows, knees and more. The body isn’t equipped for the kind of punishment a player faces during an NBA season.
The jump from 30 regular season games over four months in college to 82 games over six months in the pros is monumental. And that’s not even including playoff games. Six games in the NCAA Tournament gets you to the championship game. Six games in the NBA playoffs doesn’t even assure you a trip out of the first round.
“About the first 12 to 13 years I probably averaged like 37 minutes a game,” said Howard. “That’s a lot of wear and tear on a body. If you want to stay healthy and be able to give that 110 percent energy night in, night out, you’ve got to get proper rest. Eating right is important, as well as getting massages, taking care of your body.”
Respect the game
Officiating in the NBA is the best in the world, but keeping that in mind does necessarily help when you feel like you’ve been the recipient of a bad call.
“Referees make mistakes like everyone,” said Howard. “That being said, you’ve got to find ways to not allow it to frustrate you or lose your focus.”
It’s a trap so many players fall into. It’s one thing to lose out on a play because of a call made by an official, but when you let the repercussions of a call bleed over into the rest of your game, you’re cooked. According to Howard, whose 3,265 personal fouls rank him second among active players, there are simple ways to improve your chances of ending interactions with officials on a positive note.
“Creating relationships with referees, knowing their names, that helps as far as they know there’s a level of respect that you have for them,” said Howard. “I think it’s very disrespectful to say ‘Hey ref!’ If you can say ‘Hey Mark!’ or ‘Hey Dick!’ It’s important to go in with a calm tone of voice rather than yelling and being disrespectful.”
Develop a Routine
Then there’s the travel. Playing 41 games a year on the road equals about 70 days away from home. It makes developing a consistent routine and having the support of your family incredibly important.
“My routine is very important,” Howard said. “I’m 16 years in it so far so that means it has helped. I developed my routine in college and I carried it with me to the NBA.”
Surround Yourself with the Right People
So much of what allows a player to have a successful NBA career has nothing to do with the game on the court. Learning to deal with the realities of being a professional athlete might be the biggest hurdle for those coming into the league; one that has tripped up more than a few talented players.
“In this league, you’re always going to have people who are opportunists.” Howard said. “You’ve just got to find ways to have a good judge of character of people who are around you and want to be involved in your life.”
For many veterans, that means turning to the people they know they can count on.
“My family has sacrificed more than anyone,” said Howard. “I know theirs is unconditional love and support and when you have that support behind you it makes your job a lot easier. I’m very blessed.”