Bullets welcome Howard, new era

November 19, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

A normal practice for the Washington Bullets would attract three reporters, tops. But there was no sense of normality outside the team's practice facility at Bowie State yesterday.

Camera crews, satellite trucks and big-shot TV anchors were all there to officially record the start of a new era in Washington Bullets basketball.

First-round pick Juwan Howard was introduced, one day after agreeing to an 11-year, $36 million contract. Chris Webber, obtained on Thursday in a trade with the Golden State Warriors, will be unveiled tonight at USAir Arena when the Bullets play host to the Boston Celtics.

One day after the reunion of these former college teammates, the NBA and local fans were still abuzz about a day that should change the future of a struggling franchise.

"This is unbelievable," said Howard, excited by his signing and the opportunity to play alongside Webber. "I was trying to call [Webber] to congratulate him and to welcome him home -- I'm already here waiting on him. But I haven't had a chance to reach him yet."

That's because Webber spent much of his day packing, getting ready to catch the red-eye from the San Francisco Bay area last night for an arrival here today. He'll undergo a series of physicals throughout the day and, if he wants to, he'll play tonight.

Howard definitely will be in uniform. He arrived in town early yesterday morning, signed his contract and practiced last night. To create a roster space, the Bullets waived reserve guard Brian Oliver.

Before practice Howard was given five basic plays -- "One's a play I stole from Michigan," coach Jim Lynam said. After going through basic drills for the first part of practice, Howard scrimmaged. That part of practice was closed to the media, so Lynam gave a report.

"His stamina's good, but that didn't surprise me," Lynam said. "He's been working out, and he had a personal trainer. I'll have to play it by ear, but I'm certainly playing him [tonight]."

That will certainly please Howard, the No. 5 pick in this year's draft who -- aside from training and basic basketball drills -- has been limited to playing some one-on-one and two-on-two.

"Playing five-on-five felt great," said Howard, who received some friendly taunting by his teammates after his first practice. "I was just running plays, and I feel comfortable. Right now everything is coming at me at once."

Which is how Howard described his past week, when rumors began to increase that Webber possibly would join him in Washington. Howard took it at just that -- rumors -- until he got a call from a friend late Thursday afternoon.

"He said, 'Chris Webber has been traded to the Washington Bullets and you guys are going to be teammates,' " said Howard, who had agreed to his contract just hours earlier.

"Butterflies just started flowing. I felt great about it. We complement each other, and our relationship goes a long way."

It was a relationship that began when the two entered Michigan as freshmen as part of the famed "Fab Five." But when Webber left after his sophomore season, Howard assumed the next time the two would take the court together would be as opponents.

"Once he declared to go to the NBA, I assumed there was no more Chris," Howard said. "Now we're together. It's exciting for the sporting world of the NBA, it's exciting for the Washington area and Baltimore area, and it's great for the organization.

Howard said he had no hard feelings about the contract talks between his agent and Bullets general manager John Nash -- talks that at times were bitter.

"I always kept perspective that it's a business first, and you have to roll with the punches," Howard said. "At times I was sad about [the holdout] because I hate to be a person to come in late to things."

Better late than never. And with Howard definitely making his debut tonight -- and the possibility that Webber may do the same -- the future for the Bullets looks a lot brighter today.

"The more talent you can coach, the better it makes you -- believe me," Lynam said. "What this league is about is playing to the strengths of your players. It'll change our focus a bit. But we'll be fine."

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