- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Just like you, Juwan Howard has a dream.
It falls somewhere below his hopes of bringing Washington its first NBA championship since 1979, but nonetheless Howard often thinks about it.
"Hopefully one day, me and my teammates can drive here to this arena knowing that we have the sixth man supporting us," Howard said of the fickle MCI Center crowds that boo him and his teammates regularly. "I don't think any of my teammates like the fact that they get booed when Portland and the Lakers, New York and Philly come in here. Before the game they get more cheers than us."
It's true. For the Wizards Howard in particular there are very few times when the home crowd gets behind the team. Certainly this has a lot to do with the fact that the Wizards/Bullets have had just five .500 seasons or better in the last 21 years, which will tend to jade anybody.
Plus the Wizards have a 197-277 record since Howard joined the team out of Michigan in 1994.
But Howard feels that the treatment he receives at MCI Center is perhaps the worst that any player in the league gets at home, so much so that he at times feels more comfortable playing on the road in places like his hometown Chicago and at Detroit.
"I haven't," Howard says when asked if he can remember a player being jeered by his hometown fans. "Some people say that Antoine Walker [in Boston] used to receive that a couple of years ago. And I think Luc Longley used to get it pretty bad. But I can't ever remember hearing a guy get it as bad as I do here."
Howard, who will try to lead the Wizards to their fifth victory this season when they face struggling Atlanta tonight at MCI Center, isn't the only player to wonder why Howard is so harshly ridiculed at home. Former Wizard Chris Webber no stranger to the derision that can be handed out by MCI Center crowds, called the booing of Howard "a disgrace", and something that MCI Center fans "should be ashamed of" after leading the Kings to a 114-104 win last season.
Indiana center Jermaine O'Neal recently wondered aloud how Howard could take this sort of treatment night in and night out.
"It's got to be really hard on him," O'Neal said. "I haven't seen anything like it."
Howard can find some solace in knowing that MCI's yahoos will jeer any local athlete. On Nov. 16, while sitting courtside with his wife and child, Redskins cornerback Deion Sanders was booed lustily when his face appeared on the arena's big screen.
"That was ridiculous," a disgusted Howard said. "Here's a guy who comes out and wants to support. He plays for your team, the Washington Redskins comes with his family and he gets greeted like that. That's not fair. This guy hasn't done anything wrong."
Last season, following exaggerated reports in the New York Post that Howard and then-assistant coach Tree Rollins came to blows on Jan. 8 after the Wizards lost to the Bucks in double overtime, Howard was booed at MCI Center in the team's next game against Toronto.
This reminded Howard of the treatment he received when the Wizards lost a game to Portland at MCI Center last week. Washington was still very much in a game it eventually lost 104-94. The Wizards had whittled a 12-point deficit to five points at the end of the third quarter. However, every time Howard put his hands on the basketball he was booed in the fourth quarter.
"It's crazy," Howard said. "If you see yourself as a fan and you are supposed to be supporting your home team, I don't think you should be booing when there are 12 minutes left in the game and the outcome is up in the air. It's tough but you have to learn to play through it."
Howard, who still is owed more than $53 million over the next three years on a seven-year, $105 million deal he signed in 1996, knows that much of the fan hostility is directed at him because of the money he makes.
However, president of basketball operations Michael Jordan has told Howard to never focus on his contract. Instead, Jordan wants Howard to concentrate on playing his game and making a contribution to the team.
But Howard knows that this will be hard if not impossible to do.
"A lot of fans will not have sympathy for a guy who is making the kind of money I'm making," Howard said. "But too many people focus on the money and I hate that. I don't think anyone can live up to what they are making. But you know what? No one talks about what the owners are making. Their salaries are never published. No one talks about what they are profiting. But they're the ones that are writing the checks. If they can pay you that kind of money then of course that money is there.
"If you are going to be awarded that kind of money, that owner feels that you deserve it. Then let it be. If the opportunity presents itself I would do it again."
Despite their early season struggles, the Wizards have a prime opportunity tonight to win back-to-back games for the first time since April. Although the Wizards have gotten off to a bad start, Howard still believes the fans can help the team.
"The season is far from being over," Howard said. "If we could just stay positive and try to help each other out. The fans are just as important as the players. We need their help as much as anyone's out there."
Notes Washington forward Popeye Jones had three metal pins removed from his broken right index finger and could be ready to play before 2001. Jones broke his finger against Orlando in the season opener at Orlando on Oct. 31 in a collision with Grant Hill. He had the pins inserted two days later.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide