This is one of the small yet nuanced ways that Howard has promoted positive vibes on his fourth team in four years. Howard’s outsized personality followed him to Washington, but so did a reputation of being a locker-room nuisance. However during the honeymoon period with the Wizards, Howard has gone out of his way to extol the virtues of energy and enthusiasm in an effort to fit in — and more than that, to lead.
“Oh yeah. Got to stay positive. Keep talking,” Howard said, following the Wizards' 108-95 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday night. “All it takes is one person’s energy to change everybody else’s.”
To Howard, a little sunshine is the key ingredient to the Wizards recovering from their 2-7 start and contending in the Eastern Conference. That said, a sprinkle of double-doubles can’t hurt either.
“If you want me to judge him after two games, he’s been pretty good. And I like his enthusiasm,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “I like his smile. He’s a good-looking guy and he uses it all the time, right?”
In his second game since rehabilitating from a piriformis muscle injury, Howard scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Rookie center Mitchell Robinson swatted the 6-foot-11 Howard early in the game. The injury and so many weeks on the sideline have stunted Howard’s jumping ability, and on Sunday all he could do was grin about his still-recovering hops.
“I was smiling because I kept saying to myself, ‘I can’t get off the ground tonight,' " Howard said. “I told [Brooks] and he called a play for me to catch a lob pass. But I told him my legs aren’t there yet. I just had to keep smiling my way through it.”
Howard ultimately won the big-man matchup with Robinson by finishing as a game-high plus-27 while on the floor. Howard, still on his positivity kick, even took the high road when discussing Robinson, who’s quickly becoming a heel in Washington. In the preseason, Robinson sparked a confrontation with Markieff Morris that led to the veteran forward’s ejection and on Sunday, Robinson was described as being particularly chatty again.
“I don’t take nothing personal. I know what he did last game to get inside Keef’s head and I wanted to see if he was going to be like that tonight. But other than that, it’s just basketball,” Howard said. “The way that you play somebody who’s kind of got into your head a couple times the last time you played them is by not talking. Just playing the game and act like they don’t exist. But he’s a young, great player. I love his energy and his effort, and he has a chance to be really good in this league.”
As the Wizards' resident optimist, Howard tries to keep things light.
The morning of his season debut was the same day the Wizards unveiled a Geico jersey patch, and Howard, along with the pillars of the franchise John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., stood in a hallway to appear as models at the news conference. During an uncomfortably long wait, Howard spotted Capital City Go-Go General Manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu and lowered his voice for an impression. Howard’s sounded more like a frog than Mensah-Bonsu’s deep, rolling baritone, but it was another small attempt to ease the tension.
Though some of Howard’s punchlines should come with a rim shot and a reminder to try the veal, for a team that has been wallowing in stagnation, his efforts have been appreciated by Brooks. It’s easy to recognize a thousand-watt smile in an abyss of negativity.
“Some people thought that sometimes [he’s] a distraction,” Brooks said. "[But] I like guys that smile and play hard, that can score down low, that can block and alter shots.”
Following Sunday’s game, after all the daps and the double-double, Howard slowly walked to the showers. He was informed about his coach’s compliment — how Brooks thinks he’s handsome and digs his smile. Naturally, Howard hammed it up.
“Oh, shoot!” Howard said, breaking out a cheesy grin. “I’m going to keep smiling some more.”