As you have probably heard, the Miami Heat and LeBron James could become NBA champions Thursday night. After two years of criticism and controversy, they're on the precipice of a major accomplishment. It would affect legacies, and public opinion, and all sorts of things that figure into how we judge athletes.
But there's also a personal aspect to the accomplishment. These players go through a lot over the course of their careers to reach this goal, and over time they bond and grow together. So, with that context, check out this story about how Juwan Howard might cry for LeBron if the Heat win the title. From Ethan J. Skolnick for The Palm Beach Post (via PBT):
What would it mean to Howard for James to win a ring?
"Whenever that day happens, I will be so happy for him personally, because he truly deserves it," Howard said. "He works extremely hard, he's a team guy, he gets a lot of unfair criticism. And until you have walked in his shoes, you don't know what it feels like to deal with all that. And my heart goes out to him, for how he handles it. And I respect him so much for how he handles it. A player of his caliber could be a total a——, but he's the total opposite."
"I might shed a tear, for him, if that ever happens."
There are a few interesting aspects to this quote. The first is that Howard speaks of a side of LeBron that the public doesn't really get to see, whether because of bias or privacy issues. Howard's portrait of James is very positive, to the point where it can't be the only truth (a lot of the bad stuff we here about LBJ must be true, too). But it's interesting to think about these other aspects of James, and how we might absorb them into his image.
The more interesting stuff concerns Howard himself. Though you wouldn't know it from his current role as cantankerous benchwarmer and seasoned veteran, Howard has had a lengthy and successful career. He's been one of the most notable members of the Fab Five (another superteam, as Barry Petchesky reminded us Thursday), one of the NBA's first $100 million players, an All-Star, and an effective role player. He's seen virtually every possible aspect of NBA life since entering the league in 1994.
Yet, until last season, he'd never been to the NBA Finals. A championship ring would validate much of Howard's career, and give him a cool accomplishment as he transitions to the next stage of his life. But his comments weren't about himself — they focused on LeBron. And while that's largely because of the line of questioning, Howard wouldn't have said he might cry tears of happiness for LeBron if he didn't care about his teammates.
Howard is now largely ineffective on the court on the rare times he gets to see it. But this right here is why he's stuck around. He cares about and supports his teammates, even when it'd be easy to focus on personal accomplishments.