By Michael Lark
“With the 29th and final pick of the first round of the 2003 draft the Dallas Mavericks select Josh Howard of Wake Forest.”
The announcement from NBA Commissioner David Stern forever changed the life of Joshua Jay Howard as he cried in happiness when as heard his name being called. Howard, had defied the odds after being born with deformed legs that had to be reset so they would grow correctly, and making it to the NBA proved to be the defining moment in his dream to play professional sports.
The 2003 NBA Draft is considered to be one of the most talented draft pools in NBA history, overflowing with future NBA stars Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and David West. Howard, who had not even been worked out by the Mavs prior to the draft, unexpectedly dropped to the final pick in the first round and the Mavs made sure to take advantage of it.
As a rookie, Howard averaged a respectable 8.6 points and 5.5 rebounds while playing 67 games, starting 29 of them, and earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. By his second year in the league, Howard had established himself as a full-time starter in the team’s frontcourt alongside Erick Dampier and everyone’s favorite German, Dirk Nowitzki. His relentless, gritty style of play helped earn him playing time on a team loaded at the small forward position with Jerry Stackhouse, Marquis Daniels, Alan Henderson and Josh Howard. He became an integral part of the Mavericks high-powered offense poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. However, despite an impressive regular season (58-24) the Mavericks fell short of a championship, losing to former Maverick Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in the second round.
Prior to Howard’s third season, the Mavericks waived long-time veteran guard Michael Finley under the leagues “Allan Houston Rule,” paving the way for Howard to be one of the go-to players for the Mavs on the offensive end of the floor. The Mavs had built a true championship contender and Howard had become a big part of the reason why. The Mavericks were 24-0 in games that “J-Ho” scored at least 20 points or more. On the defensive end, Howard was a hard-nosed perimeter defender, utilizing his length and lateral quickness to cover elite athletes, recording 1.2 steals per game. Despite being limited to just 59 games due to various injuries, Howard continued to improve and averaged a career high 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists while shooting 47% from the floor.
The Mavs ended the 2006 regular season campaign with 60 wins, led by eventual coach of the year Avery Johnson. “Josh has been incredible for us,” 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.” In the playoffs, Howard continued to be part of the Mavs success, helping the team sweep the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. In the second round, they narrowly escaped in-state rival, the San Antonio Spurs, and were able to set up a playoff rematch with the Phoenix Suns in the conference semi-finals. This time the Mavs depth and defense proved to be too much as they defeated the Suns in six games earning their first trip to the NBA Finals.
Then came the “Fix of ’06,” where the Dallas Mavericks faced off against the Miami Heat for the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy. Despite, dominating for much of the Finals and taking a commanding lead of the series, the Heat were somehow able to come back by being able to seemingly get any call possible led by Dwayne Wade’s 97 free throws attempts in just six games. For Josh Howard, the most controversial moment came in the closing seconds of the Game 5 overtime loss. After Dwayne Wade made the first of his two free throws, referees asserted that Howard signaled a timeout, the team’s final. Disagreement and hysteria ensued, but the call was upheld, and with just 1.9 seconds, down one point the Mavs had to go the entire length of the court instead of inbounding the ball at half court. The rest is history and the Mavs went on to lose that game and eventually the series in front of their home crowd. Let’s just all agree to remember the name Joey Crawford.
Despite the loss, Josh Howard continued to develop and became a fan favorite amongst MFFLs. During the 2006-2007 offseason, the Mavs recognized they had a rising star on their hands and rewarded Howard with a four-year, $40 million contract extension. Despite the huge payday, Howard remained hardworking and humble while helping lead the Mavs to an impressive season-best 67-15 record, before getting knocked out of the first round by the Golden State Warriors.
Howard went on to average 18.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists and was hand selected by NBA Commissioner David Stern to fill a roster spot on the 2007 NBA All-Star game. While Howard continued to improve his game on the court, becoming one of the best two-way players in the league, his game off the court started coming into question.
In a 2007 interview with Michael Irving, he told ESPN Radio 103.3 that he smoked marijuana in the offseason, noting “I don’t think that’s stopping me from doing my job.” Howard later apologized to fans on his website.
During the 2007-2008 season, Howard enjoyed his best season as a pro. He averaged career-highs in points (19.9), rebounds (7.0) and assists (2.2), but the Mavs were once again eliminated in the first round. Following a crucial loss in the playoffs against the New Orleans Hornets, Howard strangely handed out flyers to a birthday bash.
Howard’s body then began to fail him and he decided to have reconstructive surgery to repair issues related to his left ankle during the 2008 offseason. In August, he was arrested in North Carolina for drag racing. About a month later, a video surfaced from Allen Iverson’s charity football game where Howard is caught saying, “‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is going on. I don’t celebrate this [expletive]. I’m black.” Howard went on to enjoy an up and down season that limited him to just 52 games (18.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists) due to injuries.
By January 2009, Howard’s relationship with the Dallas Mavericks had come to a head. He clashed with head coach Rick Carlisle and was being shopped. Reports indicated that Howard even missed a game because he was hungover after a late night of partying.
On February 13, 2010, Howard was officially traded to the Washington Wizards along with Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. Days after being traded he tore his ACL against the Chicago Bulls and has never been able to get his career back on track. He’s spent time with the Utah Jazz, the Minnesota Timberwolves and most recently, the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League before a sports hernia injury ended his season.
Going into the 2014-2015 at 34 years-old, Josh Howard is looking to make one last run on an NBA roster according to his website, while making an appearance in this year summer league in Las Vegas. While it’s a long shot that Howard will get another opportunity at the NBA level, despite his off the field issues, he will always have a place in history as one of great players in Dallas basketball history.
Editor’s Note: Michael Lark is currently a staff writer and social media content coordinator for mavsfanatic.com. He’s a local guy, born and raised in Dallas and currently living in Arlington. A graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington, Michael is currently working as a budget and financial analyst. He’s been a lifelong Mavs fan since the dark days in 1994. His favorite Mavs of all-time are Steve Nash, Josh Howard, Michael Finley, Nick Van Exel and Dirk Nowitzki. In his free time Michael enjoys spending time with his wife and two dogs, George and Carlos, and playing basketball, soccer and the drums. You can follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Lark.