The tattoo on his left arm is an indelicate scrawl that reads
DR. J. Juwan Howard had it done--his homage to Julius
Erving--when he was a fifth-grader in Chicago, and it has
endured there unfaded, even though Howard could now sport an
alphabet soup's worth of more self-congratulatory sentiments. He
might well wear an ornate v as a Roman-numerical nod to the Fab
Five of Michigan, for which he played pivot. Or a gothic B.A.
for the communications degree he will soon receive from
Michigan, despite having to finish the bulk of his final-year
studies as a jet-lagged rookie for the Bullets. Or a bold-faced
no to point up the White House's antidrug crusade, for which he
is, at 22, one of Washington, D.C.'s primary spokesmen.
This is an article from the Oct. 23, 1995 issue
But it's less the letter of his old tattoo than its no-frills
nature--"One of those basement jobs," his best friend, Lamont
Carter, calls it--that makes it suit the 6'9", 250-pound Howard.
Despite being drafted high (No. 5 in '94), getting paid well
($36 million over 11 years) and producing instantly (17 points
and 8.4 rebounds in his rookie year even though he missed
training camp), Howard has all the pretense of a run-down rec
room. At Michigan he broke the press, slogged in the paint and
ceded the spotlight to Chris Webber and Jalen Rose. In
Washington he has been bumped outside to small forward to
accommodate Webber once again.
No headlines? No matter. "Juwan's a mature guy with such a good
approach to the game," Bullet coach Jim Lynam says. "That's in
no small way behind his playing well right off the bat. If I had
to be forced to say only a few words about him, I'd say he's a
very complete player across the board. There's just not much he
After an hour of work on his jump shot--doctoring his J, as it
were--with personal trainer Tim Grover at the Chicago Athletic
Center a few weeks before camp, Howard talked over lunch; his
gaze, like his game, is preternaturally steady. "Once I put on
my basketball shoes, it's time to go to work," he says. "I'm
bringing my lunch pail and leaving all that niceness off the
court. I take the game very seriously. I'm not one of those
young guys who make all the money and don't care. This is
something I love, and I take pride in doing it right."
If character were considered sexy, then Howard would rightly be
known as Don Juwan. He credits his steadfastness to his
grandmother Jannie Mae Howard, who raised him because his
mother, Helena Watson, was only 17 when he was born. Jannie Mae
was a woman of strong convictions who indulged Howard's love of
basketball and urged him to excel in school. On the day Howard
signed his letter of intent to attend Michigan--and thereby
triggered the decisions of the rest of the Fabs to go there--he
returned to his South Side home after practice to find a crowd
gathered outside. Jannie Mae had died of a heart attack just
For days afterward he sat in her room and slept in her bed.
During team prayers before Michigan games he would speak to
Jannie Mae; on the court he had the unshakable feeling she was
watching from the best seat in the house. "She was a strong
guiding force," Howard says. "I wouldn't be here today without
Howard's grandmother had expressed two wishes for him. One was
to improve his relationship with his mother, which he has done.
The other was to get his college degree, a feat no one in his
family had ever achieved. After a brilliant run during the NCAA
tournament as a junior--Howard averaged 29 points and 12.8
boards, and shot 65.8% over four games--he called the NBA
Players Association and requested copies of all the rookie
contracts of the last two years. Then, his homework done, he
chose to enter the draft.
On Jannie Mae's stat sheet, however, Juwan remained 32 credits
shy. With the help of his academic adviser and his tutor at
Michigan, Howard took independent-study, correspondence and
extension courses even as he was learning his way around the
NBA. He kept books by the bench at practice, studied on planes
and ate room-service meals in hotel rooms as he churned out
papers in longhand. "By January I got used to the traveling and
the games, when to get rest and when I could get time with
friends," he says. "Then it began to go like clockwork." He'll
earn his degree this fall, once he completes his last bit of
For all Howard's term papers and take-home exams last season,
his play never suffered; Lynam didn't even know the rookie was
still a student until late February, when he saw Howard cramming
on a flight. And just as Howard had attracted his fellow Fab
frosh to Michigan, so his signing with the Bullets enticed
Webber to accept a trade there. Their arrival, while not budging
the Bullets' record much, did boost ticket sales 13%. "It's like
back to freshman year, where we'd wear each other's socks and
shoes, borrow each other's jeans," Howard says. "It was like we
were brothers then, and it's going to continue that way. Only
now I'd like to borrow his Hummer, and he can borrow my Benz."
Before last season there were doubts about Howard's athleticism.
Despite not having the springs or the speed of most small
forwards, he has embraced the challenge of playing on the
perimeter--"Players play," he says--and has worked intensively
with Grover, Michael Jordan's personal trainer. Grover now notes
a similarity between his two charges. "When he's playing, Mike
says he likes to get into his opponent's heart," Grover says.
"So I asked him once, 'When do you give the heart back?' and he
told me, 'I don't.' Juwan told me the same thing once, and I
asked him the same question. He told me he doesn't give the
heart back either."
Which raises another question: Just how much heart can one