If you want to know what perseverance is, look no further than Josh Howard.
For most of his life, Josh Howard has been battling — against the awkwardness of youth, when he struggled on a basketball court; against naysayers who said he could never play college basketball; against the 28 teams who passed over him in the 2003 NBA Draft.
And at every turn, with his family behind him, Josh has risen to the challenge — far surpassing any imagined expectations, outworking his opponents, bringing a rarely found fire to the game of basketball, and looking to improve so that he can be the best person and player he can be.
Growing up in the Morningside neighborhood of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was not an easy life, but Josh and his younger brother, Steven, were taken care of. They were raised by their mother, Nancy, a nursing assistant, in a small two-bedroom apartment.
“We had to take the bus, stay in apartment housing,” he said. “Me and my brother shared one room. My mom was in the other room. Just living. We ate every day. We didn’t miss [any] meals. Nothing like that.”
Outside his immediate family, Josh had two loves in his childhood. The first, and to this day, his most important, was his grandmother, Helen Howard, whose address he has tattooed on a shoulder.
“You know how you just have special bonds with different people?” Josh explained. “I bonded with my grandmother.”
She lived just minutes away, but for Josh, grandma’s house was a haven.
“She would come and get me every weekend,” he said. “That’s the time we spent going to grandma’s house, getting away from, you know, the normal stuff of life… She always surrounded us with love.”
Josh’s other love was basketball. He was far from a natural; in fact, he felt more comfortable playing baseball and football. But as often as he could, Josh was at the playground, learning the game.
Early on, it was a struggle.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have my coordination – that was an awkward time of my life,” he said. “I was skinny, lanky, very awkward. But I stuck with it, and was able to pull through with a lot of guys picking on me and stuff. I was able to keep fighting.”
Until the 10th grade, Josh was little more than a shot blocker. “I couldn’t make a shot,” he said. Then, he hit his growth spurt. Not long after, he started hitting his shots, too.
By his senior year in high school, Josh was a raw but electric talent, headed toward the college ranks.
“At Wake Forest he feuded with coaches Dave Odom and Skip Prosser, and on a few occasions thought about quitting, ‘just going back to the other side of town, where I was from.’ And what would he have done? ‘Try to stay out of trouble, work, go to community college, play pickup ball, lots of things,’ he says.”
Yet Josh never did quit. Instead, he worked hard on every aspect of his game, including his emotions, and by his senior year, he was dominating the ACC in a way that few players ever had, a fearsome competitor and driven team leader.
Prosser recalled a victory over N.C. State that season, which gave the Demon Deacons the ACC regular-season championship. They were trailing by eight at the half.
”I had to get into the locker room before Josh killed someone,” Prosser told the Miami Herald. “I think they were more afraid of Josh than State. Josh was crucial in leading us. He had great courage.”
Despite a second-round loss to Auburn in the NCAA tournament, 2002-2003 was a breakthrough season for Josh. He was named to the AP First Team All-America, the Wooden All-America Team, and became the first unanimous ACC MVP since North Carolina State’s David Thompson in 1975.
The Best for Last
Given the way his senior year ended, expectations were sky high for Josh heading into the NBA draft. He worked out with several teams, and was projected to be a sure-fire, middle of the first round pick.
On draft day, Josh, his family, coach Prosser, and friends assembled at his mother’s house. They turned on the television, watched, and waited.
After Dahtay Jones of Duke – another ACC player – was chosen with the 20th pick, Josh couldn’t watch any longer.
“It was really strange,” he said. “I was outside with my homeboys, wondering what happened.”
Then came the last pick of the first round.
“With the 29th and final pick of the first round of the 2003 draft,” announced David Stern, “the Dallas Mavericks select Josh Howard of Wake Forest.”
“There was an explosion of emotion,” said Prosser. Not long after, he remembered spotting Josh back inside the house. “Literally, tears were rolling down his face,” he said.
“It was a relief,” said Josh. “Being able to take care of my family and to live out one of my dreams, playing professional sports. Not too many people can do that. It’s a blessing. I’m thankful. I thank God that I’m in a position to be able to do this.”
A Home in Dallas
While the experience of the draft was disappointing, Josh was thrilled to be heading to Dallas. He came off the bench for most of his first season, soaking in knowledge from more experienced teammates like Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.
By his second year in the league, Josh was a starter, continuing, as he has throughout his career, to improve mentally and physically. During the 2005-2006 season, the Mavericks were 24-0 when Josh scored 20 points or more. His performance was an integral reason why Dallas reached its first NBA Finals in 2006.
“Josh has been incredible for us,” Mavericks coach Avery Johnson told the Washington Post. “He has matured so much. He stays after practice, without me telling him. He really works on his game. You can see he’s reaping what he’s sowing.”
The 2006-2007 season was one of great team and personal achievement for Josh. It began in the offseason, when he rebuilt a basketball court in his native Winston-Salem, and just got better.
For the first time in his career, he was named to the NBA All-Star Team.
“It is an honor to be selected,” Josh said at the time. “This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. It is especially gratifying to play along side my teammate Dirk Nowitzki.”
More significantly, the Mavericks marched to an NBA best 65-17 mark during the regular season. Though they were eliminated in the playoffs by a red-hot Golden State Warriors team, Josh remained optimistic about the prospect of bringing the franchise its first championship, and intent on doing whatever was necessary to make that happen.
“I want to improve my strength,” Josh said in his exit interview. “I think that’s another part of my game that I can develop, working on my body. That’s really it, just keep working on my shot, shoot the ball better and think the game better…I’ve never had any doubt in my mind (that we can win a title). I’m a confident guy and I love to play the game. For me, the goal is always to win a championship and those guys share the same goal, as well.”
Josh followed those statements with perhaps his best season as a pro in 2007-08, averaging career-highs in points (19.9), rebounds (7.0) and assists (2.2) per game. Dallas won 51 games However, the Mavericks once again fell in their first round series, this time to the New Orleans Hornets.
Despite changing coaches from Avery Johnson to Rick Carlisle during the offseason, Dallas extended its run of consecutive 50-win seasons and playoff appearances since Josh was drafted to six during the 2008-09 season, and defeated the San Antonio Spurs in five in their first round playoff series. Over the course of the series, No. 5 shot 49.2 percent from the field and averaged 18.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. However, the playoff run was short-lived as the Mavs fell in five to the Denver Nuggets in the next round.
During the subsequent offseason, Josh had reconstructive surgery on his left ankle, but was primed to be a key piece on a Mavericks team with championship aspirations in 2009-10. However, just three games into the season, he suffered a setback in his recovery and was forced to miss nearly a month recovering.
When he returned in mid-December, Josh’s spot in the rotation was held by Shawn Marion. The Show adjusted and spent most of December and January coming off the bench for the Mavs, and averaged 13 points per game in better than 26 minutes per night off the bench.
However on February 13, 2010, Josh’s six-and-a-half year, 431-game stay in Dallas came to an end when he was the principal piece in a seven-player trade between the Mavericks and the Washington Wizards.
No. 5’s arrival launched a rebuilding project for the Wizards highlighted by young talent and the veteran savvy that Josh brought to the team.
Over his first few games in Washington, The Show was going strong. He averaged 17 points, four rebounds and a steal per game in his first three games despite playing less than 30 minutes per night, highlighted by a 20-point effort on 8-of-11 shooting to lead the Wizards to a victory over Carmelo Anthony’s Nuggets on February 19th.
But just three nights later, Josh suffered a severe injury, tearing the ACL and meniscus in his left knee.
The knee injury shelved Josh for the remainder of the 2009-2010 season and bothered him for all of 2010-2011. He played just 18 games with the 10-11 Wizards, averaging 8.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 22.7 minutes per games.
But his extended absences did not prevent Josh from being a mentor and a leader for the youthful Wizards.The Show said he learned about himself during the 2010-11 season as he went through setbacks in his recovery from surgery.
“Sitting back and watching, I learned another part of my personality as far as coaching,” Josh said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but that’s something I enjoy, going out there and trying to motivate young kids to go and play.”
MAKING MUSIC IN UTAH
Josh spent the NBA lockout that followed the 10-11 season continuing to recover from his knee surgery and when the lockout ended he signed as a free agent with the Utah Jazz.
Beginning the season in a reserve role for the first time in his career, Josh adjusted well with six double-digit scoring efforts in the first month of the season. In mid-February when Raja Bell went down to injury, The Show was thrust back into a starting role and by Utah coach Tyrone Corbin and thrived.
“I’m back to a position where I’m used to playing at. I just feel good,” Josh said at the time. “I’m here for coach. However he wants to use me, I’ll just come out [ready].”
During an eight-game stretch from February 20 to March 7, Josh started all eight games and averaged 13 points and 6.5 rebounds while starting and playing nearly 30 minutes per night. No. 8 wound up starting 15 consecutive games for the Jazz from Mid-February to mid-March.
“I really do [like him],” Corbin said at the time. “The way that he can read and cut. He wait[s] and his timing is really good,” Corbin said. “He come[s] off and he’s usually got a good look, or he can turn the corner and get on top of the basket.”
Unfortunately, Josh’s left knee started acting up again in mid-March, forcing him to the sidelines as he underwent arthroscopic surgery. The procedure was originally slated to keep him out for the remainder of the season, but Josh had other ideas. He returned to the Jazz lineup on April 24th and played the final two games of the season.
Josh’s resilience impressed Utah coaches and before the playoffs began they voted unanimously to put him back in the starting lineup to start their series against San Antonio. Despite The Show’s efforts, the Jazz were swept out of the playoffs by the Spurs.
JOINING THE WOLFPACK
After the 2011-12 season, Josh was once again a free agent and after working out hard on his own and waiting the entire summer for an opportunity, he signed a contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Despite not spending training camp with the Wolves, Josh was immediately placed into the Minnesota rotation as the team attempted to fill the lineup following injuries to several key players, including All-Star Kevin Love. Josh spent his first five games with the Timberwolves coming off the bench, but by the end of November, he had again gained a starting role.
His best game of the season came during a 105-88 win on December 4th in Philadelphia, when The Show scored 16 points on 7-of-12 from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds for his first double-double since April 10, 2009.
Unfortunately, just 10 days after his big night, Josh suffered another knee injury in a game against the New Orleans Hornets. Originally believed to be just a hyperextension, Josh was shocked to learn that for the second time in less than three years, he had torn an ACL, this time in his right knee.
THE LONG ROAD BACK
Josh immediately underwent surgery to repair the knee and spent the rest of the 2012-13 rehabbing. By the time the summer came around, The Show was full recovered, but his NBA suitors were few and far between.
In an effort to keep his NBA dream alive, Josh signed a contract with the San Antonio Spurs and was assigned to the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League.
He spent most of the season with the Toros and played in a total of 24 games, including 21 starts averaging 29.5 minutes and 14.7 points per game. He hit his stride in February, when he had three double-doubles and averaged 15.4 points and nine rebounds per game over a five-game stretch.
However, in late February, Josh suffered a sports hernia and missed the final month of Austin’s season due to the injury.
DRIVEN TO RETURN
As he enters the 2014 offseason, Josh is seeking one more chance to make an impact on a NBA roster, something he knows he can still do.
He has enlisted the help of renowned trainer Joe Bonasor at Impact in Las Vegas and is hoping to make the adjustments necessary this summer to get back out on the court in the fall.
His most recent bouts with adversity have reminded Josh what it means to persevere and that time heals all wounds. With that in mind, The Show will continue to work hard to get back to the form that made him a superstar in Big D.
“I’m taking this whole summer and getting the old Josh Howard back that people were used to seeing back in Dallas. I’ve been away from the game a year-and-a-half and it’s time to come back.
“I’m gonna’ go back to doing the same things I did before I got hurt. I’ve always been a high-energy guy. I’ve always loved the game and I’ve always had a high IQ for the game, so I’m just getting back into the swing of things. It’s kind of like you never forget how to ride a bike. You just pick it up not matter how long you haven’t ridden one.”