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Howard's no dope on marijuana

Why yes, there were suggestions that Avery Johnson was losing his Dallas Mavericks, including the struggling Josh Howard. No more. The Mavs aren't just listening to the coach, they're reading him, too.

The trouble is, it appears Howard never made it past the title of Johnson's new book, "Aspire Higher."

In perhaps the most stunningly honest, if ill-fated, response to a question in a long, long time in the NBA, Howard said Friday – of all places – on Michael Irvin's radio show, that yes, smoking marijuana was a part of his and his peers' summer vacations.

Surprise, surprise.

" … What I was stating was just [in response to] a random question [the Morning News] asked me about the marijuana use," Howard said. "I just let him know that most of the players in the league use marijuana, and I have and do partake in smoking weed in the offseason sometimes and that's my personal choice and my personal opinion. But I don't think that's stopping me from doing my job."

Well, this was wonderful timing for the beleaguered Mavs and surging NBA. Dallas was fighting to stay alive in its Western Conference playoff series with New Orleans, trailing 2-0 before winning Friday night's Game 3. No Mavs had struggled worse than Howard and Jerry Stackhouse in this series, and together they still found a way to deepen the drama around Dallas.

Stackhouse ripped New Orleans coach Byron Scott, calling him "a sucker," but it was Howard's stunning honesty that promises to be a story that won't go away in these playoffs, even if the Mavs do. So far, NBA commissioner David Stern had been blessed with star power, drama and intrigue in these playoffs, and Howard sent it, well, up in smoke.

Whatever Howard's take, he didn't need to breathe life into a week-old newspaper story that no one noticed by volunteering to on the radio and make matters worse within hours of Game 3. Of course, one of ESPN's NBA house organs was calling the game, chastising Howard for dragging other NBA players into the story.

Well, guess what: Howard knows the deal. It is what it is. He'll be ripped for doing so, but he was honest. The timing was a mistake, yes, but telling the truth never is. Apparently that goes against NBA-sanctioned announcers playing make-believe in their television and radio work on the network.

"We don't comment on any specifics related to our anti-drug program," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Friday night.

NBA players are tested throughout training camp and the regular season, but there are no suspensions and no public acknowledgment of positive marijuana tests until a player's third positive. With harder drugs, you get popped right away. The NBA probably can't suspend Howard, 27, but the league conceivably could drag him into a league-sponsored drug education program.

Back in January, few noticed when the Indiana Pacers' David Harrison, a mildly talented 7-footer, was suspended for five games for violating the league's substance abuse program and reacted in a less than shame-on-me way.

"Is that bad?" Harrison wondered. "That's the question I really want people to ask themselves sometimes. Following rules blindly doesn't mean you're right just by following those rules. There needs to be a just rule. I mean, a long time ago George Washington sat around, didn't want to pay taxes to the crown … and we broke that rule and we have America today. You know, if we would've lost that war, George Washington would be Benedict Arnold."

Listen, this is a debate a lot of Americans want to have on the legality, the ethics, of marijuana use. Only, athletes aren't allowed to be part of that discussion. You know the drill: What will the kids think? And there's truth there. For a league that is constantly fighting issues related to racial stereotypes, Stern understands that whatever intelligent conversation that someone else might want to have on the issue, it is suicidal for his sport.

Along with his suspension, this waxing of philosophy on Harrison's part probably will make it tougher for him to find work this offseason. Yet Josh Howard isn't David Harrison. He's a borderline All-Star in the NBA. He's a pretty popular player. To his credit, Howard didn't insist that he was misquoted, or burned, or taken out of context. Yes, he said it. Maybe no one wants to hear that there's marijuana use in the NBA – never mind society – but someone asked and Josh Howard answered.

"I was raised on being truthful and honest with myself and my family, so I can say it with no problems and go out there and perform to the best of my abilities (Friday) and not even think about it."

Maybe this sounds crazy to people today, but in its own way, that's professionalism.