- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Juwan Howard was up to his old overwrought displays of misguided emotion yesterday.

There he was getting all worked up early in the game on Fun Street, talking stuff, shaking his body, looking to respond to the boos reverberating about the palace.

This is what he does. This is what he always has done, starting with his days with the local NBA team. He misses the point. It must be terminal, for he turns 30 years old next month. He is no longer a newcomer to the vagaries of the NBA. It just must be him, this desire to be a ninny.

It can't be easy being the $105million victim of an organization that merely expected you to be a professional. It can't be easy lugging around a cross to all the NBA cities, then hitching yourself to the cross before each game.

Howard is now the leader of the 10-win contingent from Denver, and he toils amid the suspicion the Nuggets may trade him before the deadline Feb.20, if anyone will accept the last two months of the victimization payments on his contract. You never know. There are worse things in life than being a premature celebrator.

Howard was feeling awfully good in the early going against the Wizards. It seemed like old times. You remember those seasons with Howard and Chris Webber. They used to break out in song and dance after scoring a couple of baskets in the first several minutes of a game. One of them would dunk the ball and then they would lock hands and do the waltz down the floor. It was a clown show.

People would look at one another and say, "Don't those guys know there are 44 minutes left in the game?"

There were about 42 minutes left in the Wizards-Nuggets game, the Nuggets up by nine points, when Wizards coach Doug Collins voiced an objection to Howard's chatter in the first timeout.

"Juwan was excited, and he wanted to play well," Collins said after the Wizards defeated the Nuggets 89-74. "He had his team playing with an edge. He was doing a lot of talking. He was fired up."

Howard established a counterproductive tone for his limited team, and his overdone nonsense did not go unnoticed by Michael Jordan.

"I told our guys to calm down and let me do all the talking," Jordan said. "You guys just play, and when we get a lead, then everybody can talk."

If anyone knows how to play the head game, it is Jordan.

Watch how Jalen Rose responds to Jordan's last visit as a player to Chicago this Friday night. Rose, the poor guy, probably will be out of his mind by halftime because of Jordan's sly prodding, and Rose will finish with something like 12 points on 25 shots.

Jordan leaves the untimely overt actions to the amateurs of the NBA, Howard included. You go ahead and get all silly over your team's early nine-point lead. You go ahead and stir the opposition's passion.

It is just too bad Webber is no longer around to bump Howard's chest after a basket. My, how those two liked to bump chests. They were the bump buddies, always bumping chests.

What would people say if Jordan were inclined to bump chests with a teammate after a decent play in the first quarter. People would say: "Has Jordan lost his mind?" Jordan would not be Jordan if he pulled childish stunts like that.

Jordan is about the dagger shot, about finishing the job. He put the finish to the game with 2:17 left, sinking a tough 15-footer from the left baseline to stake the Wizards to a 14-point lead. That was it right there, the final blow in the game, a yap-fest, and Jordan appeared to relish it. Before heading up the floor, Jordan turned to the players on the Denver bench and let them know the deal. It was time for them to hit the showers and warm up the bus.

That is how you employ the needle. That is how you let the crowd in on it. You complete the assignment first.

Howard, who is in his ninth season in the NBA, has not learned this fundamental lesson yet. He wants to talk before it matters, in the first quarter. He wants to do the samba, the salsa and the twist and shout after completing a function he is paid a considerable sum money to complete. Look, he is able to breathe under his own power. Give him a high-five.

Howard is possibly playing in the wrong venue. Maybe he needs to take his act to the Kennedy Center.


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