About a year ago, I had the opportunity to interview the Dallas Mavericks' Josh Howard.
I jumped at it because I knew him to be a frank talker. I have this notion that one thing the world does not need is more athletes saying the same meaningless things again and again.
Howard is, by reputation, a straight shooter, and a truth teller. Someone who speaks like a regular guy, even if it means getting his hands dirty once in a while. (We all know that scene from Bull Durham, right, where the veteran teaches the rookie how to never say anything interesting. That is not Josh Howard, and I applaud that.)
So I did a bunch of homework, watched video, and got ready for the interview. It became clear that one big untold story about Josh Howard was how he ended up on the Mavericks at all. He was drafted 29th, even though just about everyone had him ranked as a top ten talent, and he has always played as one.
There must have been some knock on him, right? Some reason ... To me, that was a real question. I asked a lot of basketball experts, and people all said the same thing: they had heard that teams were scared by his alleged use of marijuana. I heard it from several people who were in a position to know, and decided that as it related directly to how he got to the team he's on now, it was an inextricable part of his basketball story, and something I had to ask him about -- even if he was likely to duck it.
Plus, if people around the league were saying it about him, but it was not true, this would be a chance for him to set the record straight.
We talked for about a half hour, and he said a lot of bold things. For instance, he said that he felt team owner Mark Cuban's sideline antics did hurt the team sometimes. He talked about politics, money, and yes, marijuana. All things that many people leave alone -- and let's be honest, if Howard's first priority were his own career advancement, endorsements and the like, he likely would have been quiet on those topics.
I wrote up the interview and published it on TrueHoop, kind of crossing my fingers that people would not fly off the handle about any portion of the interview. There was a flutter in the Dallas press about his criticism of Cuban, but that was about it. All in all, I felt the talk was a glimpse into his character, which made him come off like the reasonable and lucid guy I felt I had talked to.
The comments on that post (there has been some technical trouble, and almost all of them, sadly, were wiped out) were very reasonable and sober-minded. There was no big hoopla. People by and large thought Josh Howard seemed like an interesting and refreshingly honest guy.
A year passed.
On Saturday, an update to my story was in the Dallas Morning News (and subsequently on the Morning News Mavericks blog). That apparently inspired a radio interview in Dallas, that featured heavily on ESPN and elsewhere.
And now we're in a situation where the marijuana part of the story has been separated from the "getting to know Josh Howard" part of the story. Whereas people who read the entire initial interview seemed to think Howard came off lucid and balanced. People who only know, essentially, that he told reporters he smokes marijuana occasionally in the off-season, probably think he's just a nut.
I hope you'll read the whole thing.
Now, I'm fine with people debating the relative merits of marijuana. That's probably healthy.
But I'm a little sad that people will judge Josh Howard by this one element of his character.
Especially when -- what is the news here exactly? It's hard to even find presidential candidates who haven't done what Howard says he has done. The club of people who have smoked pot has membership in the millions. Has anyone here ever spent any time on a college campus? At a rock concert? I swear I smelled pot smoke in the bathroom at the Sixers game this very night.
That lots of people smoke marijuana is not news. That some athletes smoke marijuana is maybe borderline news -- but not new. We all knew that, too. It has been reported again and again in various ways. Not too long ago, a Deadspin post cited this very same Josh Howard interview, and declared that pot use was too mundane to get anybody upset anymore. (Another tiny example: check out this interview about the champion 1977 Portland Blazers.)
No, to me the thing that's new here is someone lacking the willingness or ability to obfuscate, lie, or duck the question. We're not alarmed that one young person smoked pot. We're alarmed that anyone admitted it.
I'm a guy who named his blog TrueHoop. I love the truth. I can't stand being lied to. I can't stand that lying to the media is business as usual. I think the truth is important, because although it may cause problems in the short term, in the long term it less us all learn.
I am reminded of Aubrey McClendon. He is an owner of the Seattle SuperSonics. He told a reporter last summer what we now know, via recently publicized emails, to be the truth: he and his fellow owners always intended to move the team to Oklahoma City.
His sin was the same as the sins of his co-owners. McClendon was the only one who didn't lie about it, however.
McClendon was, however, the only one to see punishment from the NBA. He was fined a quarter-million dollars. What the fine was for was never well explained.
Is McClendon the worst guy in that ownership group? In my book, his candor makes him 4% more likable than the other owners.
Same goes for Josh Howard. He's one of a zillion pro athlete pot smokers. I can't see why all the other pot smokers should be rewarded for lying, while Howard is hung out to dry.
The good news, however, is that I suspect it will not end up being that big
of a deal. My bet is that in six months we look back at this and learn that the biggest news about this news is that it's not news.