The Fab One
The last member of the Fab Five in the NBA, Juwan Howard, can’t stop now.
Go ahead. Admit it. Chances are you won’t be alone.
Many are torn about Juwan Howard’s career. Some believed he’d be one of those All-Star Game regulars. Others thought Howard wouldn’t survive this long in the League. But no one probably banked on the Portland Trail Blazers 36-year-old veteran reserve forward as the last man standing of Michigan’s famed Fab Five among the accolades of Chris Webber and Jalen Rose.
“I owe those guys a lot,” Howard said of his former Wolverine teammates Webber, Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
“I owe them my life pretty much because we shared some good times together and some bad times. But more importantly those memories will never go away.”
Jackson was the lone Fab Fiver who wasn’t drafted. He didn’t make training camp cuts with the New York Knicks or Detroit Pistons either and last played in the Continental Basketball Association in 1996. King appeared in 62 total games between Toronto and Denver – along with stints in the minors and overseas – before retiring in 2001. After a six-team tour of duty during his tenure, Rose retired in 2007. Webber played for five different organizations and followed his lead in 2008.
Now in his 16th year in the League, retirement is next for Howard.
He just doesn’t know when.
“I have given it some thought. I’m going to keep playing until my body says, ‘hey it’s time.’ So far so good though. I feel great out there,” he added, flashing a quick smile.
Before the then Washington Bullets made the 6-9 Howard the 5th overall pick back in 1994, the Fab Five were college basketball’s national phenomenon in the early-90s. Young cats. High-top fades. Baggy shorts. Showing swag back when it was still called swagger. And who could forget those black socks; same shade as the black eye that unfortunately surrounds their legacy at Michigan. Six years ago their two NCAA banners from the 1992 and ’93 Finals were removed from Crilser Arena and all their victories forfeited. But even today – aside from the allegations and hardwood heartache gone by – Howard feels a deep fondest for those Fab Five days.
“Everyone keeps reminding me, so it feels like yesterday. I guess that’s a good thing. We have a lot of fans out there that really appreciate what we did for college basketball, but more importantly the impact we had on each other’s lives.”
As Portland opened their regular season with a 96 – 87 win over the Houston Rockets at the Rose Garden, Howard finds himself in position to be impactful. While Cleveland and Atlanta reportedly both showed interest in Howard, Portland not only gained experience with the free agent signing but also an in-house mentor of sorts to LaMarcus Aldridge, and particularly Greg Oden.
“His experience and his experiences are invaluable and we felt his demeanor is something we needed,” Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard said of Howard. “He will have a voice on this team, and he will demand things out of the team.”
In these early days in Portland – his seventh team after playing a supporting role in Charlotte last season – Howard remains pleasantly impressed with the teams’ young core of Aldridge and Brandon Roy, with Juwan’s tone turning father-like when asked Oden.
“I know a lot of people have been giving Greg a lot of negative press about his passion for the game and putting pressure on him saying that he should be a perennial all-star and he should be averaging double doubles; Shaq-like-numbers,” Howard began.
“Greg is going to be Greg. What he brings to the table for us, he’s putting us in the position to win. I admire his work ethic. I admire him as a person. And I admire the way he’s handled himself as a young guy.”
Howard knows all about expectations.
He felt them after receiving All-NBA Second Team honors as a rookie during the ‘94–95 season. He felt them as an All-Star (his only appearance) and making All-NBA in 1996. He felt them when he signed a seven-year, $100.8 million contract in Washington in 1996.
Thanks to the Fab Five though, Juwan was introduced early as a youngster to everyone’s anticipation and hope as an All-American at Michigan in 1994.
“It was a lot of pressure. But I don’t think it was pressure to us because we handled it like we were out there trying to have fun and compete and win ballgames. But I look back on it and I didn’t know people really watched and really took to us what we did.”
Days before the Blazers ended their preseason – one where Howard played in 6 games and averaged 7.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in roughly 25 minutes played – one Portland assistant coach raved about the phenomenal shape Howard is in, easily a testament to his work in-season and out with Michael Jordan’s ex-trainer and NBA training guru Tim Grover of Attack Athletics in Chicago.
The two have worked together since Howard signed his first NBA contact at 22 years old. During the summer, Howard worked with Grover four to five days a week, put in four or five hours a day and mixed in some yoga along the way.
“I’ve always prided myself at competing at a high level. I’m a competitive ballplayer, and what comes with that is you have to take care of your body. I’ve truly done that throughout my career.
“That’s why I think I’ve had longevity in this league so far, thank God,” said Juwan, knocking on his wooden stall in the Blazers locker room. Over those many years, Howard’s career averages have been 14.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
From Fab Five to Fab One, more than good luck has brought Juwan Howard this far.
Wendell Maxey is a freelance writer now in his third season covering the Portland Trail Blazers. You can read more of his writing at Beyondthebeat.net.