RESPECT. Interview: Current ESPN College Analyst And Former Utah Jazz Player Stephen Howard

Photo Credit – Stephen Howard

Stephen Howard is currently a college analyst for ESPN from Dallas, Texas. Growing up in Dallas, he attended Bishop Lynch High School, a college preparatory located in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas. During his time in high school, Stephen was a member of the Friar’s basketball team in the Power Forward Position. Upon graduating from high school, he would leave the state of Texas as one of its top recruits and decided to attend DePaul University.

During his freshman year at DePaul University, Stephen was a starter on the Blue Demons basketball team. He also broke records on the court and in the classroom. Being that he was a child of two educators, they always preached education first and extracurricular activities second. Stephen was a four-year starter at DePaul, compiling academic and athletic awards. He would graduate from DePaul ranked first in games played and free throws made. He would finish fifth in rebounds and points scored. Some of the other awards that Stephen earned during his time at DePaul was being selected to the 1st Team Academic All American team during his junior and senior year. He was the first individual to achieve this milestone and it has never been duplicated. His senior year, Stephen graduated “cum laude” from DePaul and was likewise awarded the prestigious Anson Mount Scholar athlete award, which is annually given to the top scholar-athlete in the country.

After graduating from college, Stephen went undrafted but signed as a rookie free agent with the Utah Jazz. Making him the first player to attend a Dallas Forth Worth private school to play in the NBA. He would play four seasons in the NBA and another eleven overseas. He is a member of the 1997 Utah Jazz team that took the Chicago Bulls to six games before losing a heartbreak in Chicago.

RESPECT. Recently spoke with the NBA standout and discussed him partnering with UNT Dallas and becoming their spokesperson for education. He also discusses some of the things he learned from his Hall of Fame teammates during his time in the NBA.

RESPECT.: What are some of your favorite memories growing up in Dallas?

Really most of my memories revolved around my family. I have a large extended family here in Dallas and was a very active kid in sports, my parents were always involved in every activity that I was a part of. My father was an assistant coach for most of the sports teams I played for. Whether it was sports or school activities my parents were always involved. Other memories revolved around family holidays and gatherings.

Photo Credit – Stephen Howard

RESPECT.: You recently, partnered with UNT Dallas and become their spokesperson. Can you tell us how this whole process came about?

It was a partnership that made sense. Being that I’m from the Dallas area and I believe in their mission, which is to make education affordable and available to everyone. They are the only public university in Dallas and being that I am a child of two educators, both my parents were teachers and my mother just recently retired as middle school principal in Garland. I just believe in education and in basketball, we talk about the three-point shot being the great equalizer.  In life, I believe education is that great equalizer and it is the one thing that can help individuals move up from the socioeconomic level that they were born into. This is really the mission of UNT Dallas. Additionally, and they needed assistance setting themselves apart from UNT Denton. Again, since I am from Dallas and believing that education should be available for everyone regardless of your socioeconomic background, race, or gender, this opportunity really made sense and I’m really enjoying it.

RESPECT.: What are some of the challenges of owning a business in Dallas in comparison to other cities around the country?

That is a difficult question to answer because business is such a wide area, but I think anytime you own a business being consistent, trying to find your niche where you are successful and trying to execute that strategy. In addition, I think because of the competitiveness of Dallas due to the large diversity in the culture here can make it competitive.

RESPECT.: What are some of the advantages of owning a business in Dallas?

The diversity of the many cultures that live in the Dallas Metroplex and as it is continuing to grow it provides a lot opportunity for employment. This allows you the opportunity to create the lifestyle you want in comparison to cities around the country that might be going through a recession or recovering from one. The city of Dallas has been pretty consistent as far as, construction and the economy is in a good place. There are opportunities if you are aggressive and stay true to what you are trying to do as an individual.

RESPECT.: Can you share some of your favorite restaurants in Dallas?

Campisi’s Restaurant, Nobo, and Nick and Sam’s Steakhouse

RESPECT.: Are there any events that you would like for us to know about?

I am a part of the leadership program with UNT Dallas and I will be speaking at high schools around the Metroplex to promote the teaching program offered at the university to promote a more diverse teaching population. This is something that I believe in, being that I mentioned earlier that I am a child of educators. On both sides of my family and my grandmother was a teacher as well. So, this experience will be a lot of fun. Additionally, I’m going to be at the opening day basketball game between DePaul and Notre Dame at DePaul’s brand-new arena in Chicago. This is a big deal for the university because we have never had our own area. This will be the opening of the “Wintrust Arena” and I’m excited about it.

RESPECT.: You graduated from DePaul University in Chicago. Can You describe that experience and how it helped prepare you for the NBA?

I had a great experience at DePaul University. It is in one of the nation’s most well-known cities and when I arrived on campus it was known as one of the blue bloods of college basketball. During this time at DePaul University was in its Hay Day. During the summers in Chicago former DePaul players such as Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings, Tyrone Corbin, Rod Strickland and Kevin Edwards. Would come back and mentor younger players to help prepare us for the next level. DePaul was also a great opportunity for me because it helped mold me into the person I am today. Being, the only Academic All- American to ever attend the university. I think this really helped me get my foot in the door with ESPN.  I go back every year to speak to the incoming freshman and transfer students about branding and what it means to be a DePaul “Blue Demon”. So, DePaul University and Chicago has been a huge part of my life and a big part of the evolution of where I am right now.

RESPECT.: What was your field of study?

I majored in “Business Management” with a Minor in English. I wanted to go to law school, but DePaul at the time did not have a pre-law program. So, we kind of created our own pre-law field. I didn’t go into law, but that is what went to school for.

RESPECT.: Do you plan on going back to school?

I’m in school right now getting my masters in Organizational Leadership and Administration and I’m almost finished. Law school is always a possibility and I’m a big believer in continuing education.

You had the opportunity to play for Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich, and George Karl. Can you share your thoughts on their coaching philosophy?

Jerry Sloan, for me, is one of my all-time favorite coaches and one look at him as a player with the Chicago Bulls. .IT really lets you know Jerry Sloan the coach because he was a very hard nose defensive oriented player, and he was the same way as a coach. His personality was blue collar, and I believed his teams really exhibited that trait as well. If you gave it your all he would have no problems with you and he was a huge reason why I got the opportunity to play in the NBA. He gave me the opportunity I think because he really respected my work ethic and gave me that shot. He was big on execution, and that really helped me later in life, understanding that if you execute something at a consistent level then you can be successful. When I played the Jazz, the opposing teams knew the type of offense that we were running, but we executed the pick and roll at a high level, so we were still able to win basketball games.  As for Gregg Popovich, I was there for his first year of coaching. So, it has really been interesting to see his evolution as a coach. In his first year, I think he was trying to keep his head above water. During this time, he wasn’t this NBA coaching genius and social advocate that he is now. He was really trying to figure out how to keep his players healthy and win games. He failed miserably because that was probably the worst year in Spurs history as far as injuries and in losses. The following year as we all know the Spurs were able to land Tim Duncan with the number one pick in the 1997 draft.  I think if you look at the genius of Gregg Popovich, it has really been aided a lot by Tim Duncan being there. So, in that regard, it goes with the saying, it’s better to be lucky than good. As Far as George Karl is concerned, “My mom always said if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.” He is my least favorite coach, and his ego is bigger than any other coach’s ego that I played under. He knew how to coach, but for me when you look at a coach regarding respecting them, do they practice what they preach? You look at how they treat everyone not just the superstars on the team. This is where you gain your respect and in that regard, he was not my most favorite coach.

Photo Credit – Stephen Howard

RESPECT.: You also had the opportunity to play with four Hall of Famers “Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robertson, and Gary Payton.” What are some of the things you learned from them?

Karl Malone, because of the similar position we played on the basketball court. He probably did more for me as far as, molding me as a professional basketball player than anyone else.  I really tried to emulate his workout, and even when I was not playing with the Utah Jazz, I would always tell myself “What would Karl do in this type of situation?”, and when I would train in the summer I would put myself through the workouts that I learned from him. He and I probably shared more on a personal level than I did with anyone else in the NBA.  When it comes to John Stockton, I learned a lot about authentic leadership from him.  John didn’t just act like a leader, he leads by example, he was great at setting the tone for our team. I remember during the pre-season we would do this conditioning test on the treadmill test. John would be the last one to get on the treadmill and he would request the time for the longest, so far on the treadmill and then he would go longer than that person just to let everyone know. So, that would always set the tone as far as pre-season and the type of shape that you needed to be in. He was not a real flashy point guard, but he is arguably the best point guard to ever play. He made a living off the simple bounce pass and that lack of flashiness was how he carried himself off the court.  We would go on a six-game road trip and he would travel with a small little duffle bag and rock khakis and a polo shirt the whole trip.  As for Gary, I learned the art of distraction as he was a talker and would trash talk as much as anyone. The big thing was that he would back it up with his play on the court. So, it did not really matter what he said, “Half the stuff he said didn’t make sense or you could not understand it, but like I said it did not really matter because when the whistle blew, you understood he was about determination and winning games.”  He was going to do anything that he could to help his team win games.  David Robinson was really a classy guy he would put in the work and he understood the bigger picture of basketball and life after sports. Transitioning from a professional athlete was not really discussed then as it is now, but I feel he had a firm grasp on things, and he knew that was just as important as playing basketball in the NBA. In addition, David was aware of how he wanted to be perceived, on and off the court, and he really revolutionized the center position. David could score points in a variety of different ways. I learned a lot from those individuals.

RESPECT.: How was John Stockton in practice?

He was like Jerry Sloan a hard nose type of guy. He was not a very fast, or an overpowering individual. So, he had to use his tenacity and grit. I think one of the things that he is known for among the players is when he set screens. John was not an individual who would not set phantom screens. He would get in the mix and would get tangled up. You didn’t care if John wasn’t as athletic as the opposition, you’re not going to get the accolades John received through his career by just being this nice guy. He knew that he needed to be a player that took your heart out every night. Now he would not show it in his words on the court, but with his play.

RESPECT.: You went undrafted following your final season at DePaul. Can you take us through the process that un-drafted athletes must go through to make it in the NBA?

I was talking to a former team of mine about this last week and we were discussing the difficulty to make the NBA when you are not drafted.  You look at the NBA and it is arguably one of the hardest things you can accomplish. You have approximately 550 players and they are arguably the top one percent of their industry.  You look at Herm Edwards, he said it best when he talked about making it into the NFL when he told the rookies “In order to make the NFL you have to take a grown man’s job and they really like their job.” and that encapsulates in the simplest terms what being a professional athlete is about. Look at college basketball and every year there are all the “one and done’s”. In addition to the All-Americans who are trying to get into the NBA, and they are all competing for ‘maybe50 spots. Some of those spots are going to be for players that aren’t drafted or coming from overseas. There are not many spots to make the NBA, and when you do make it and you weren’t drafted you are on a non-guaranteed contract. In that situation, you a have the stress of “am I going to get that call that I have been cut”, or “will my contract be picked up for the season?” It is one of the hardest processes I have ever had to go through.  Looking back on it now it has been very rewarding, and I am amazed at what I was able to accomplish.

RESPECT.: During your time in the NBA and overseas what were some of your favorite memories?

In the NBA I would say playing in the NBA Finals with the Jazz versus the Bulls in 1996-1997, and my first year as a rookie. While in Dallas, I found out that the Jazz would be picking up my contract for the entire season. I remember when I went to try out for the Seattle Supersonics. I received a call from my agent and found out that they wanted to sign me right after I finished my workout.  Playing overseas I lived in twelve different countries which gave me the opportunity to live in different cultures and really immerse myself into the customs and learn how people across the world live their life. The experience of seeing different cultures on a first-hand basis was an unbelievable experience.

RESPECT.: When you participate in some of the NBA Rookie Summits and Mentorship programs. How often is entrepreneurship presented and what are some of the tips that are shared?

It is always a big focus because as a professional athlete you never know when your career will end. So, to start preparing for life after your career is over should always be a focus because father time is undefeated. Everyone must move on at some point. As far as, tips I think it is the same advice that you give to anyone in any profession “You need to cognizant of the people you are surrounded by” This is the exact same thing I tell kids that I work with, and when I speak to college students. You need to really take a hard look at your five closest friends because they have the most influence on you. Make sure you surround yourself with individuals that will push you in the right direction.

Photo Credit – Stephen Howard

RESPECT.: Where do you see the field of journalism headed with most of the print newspapers going out of business?

Obviously, everything is going digital and becoming more accessible through streaming. I think the difficulties for entities are trying to figure out a way to monetize their content. We have avenues like, YouTube and Instagram that have allowed people to be creative with their content and then create a following to get their message out to the public. This was not available to the public beforehand and you have to embrace new technology instead of trying to be steadfast in who you are. Print media is not as popular as it used to be and people need to transition online and if not, you will end up like “Block Buster”.

RESPECT.: Who is your front-runner to win it all in March in college basketball?

A month ago, it was Arizona, but that all changed with the scandal and FBI probe.  That type of distraction does not help a team because it is very difficult to be successful even for a top-five team like Arizona. You have that bullseye on your back and everyone is coming for you all season long.  There will be a lot of questions from players, parents, and the school. It will always be the topic of discussion and the focus should be on winning on the court and not things happening off the court.

RESPECT.: What genre of music is on your playlist?

Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Childish Gambino

RESPECT.: When it is all said and done, what do you want your legacy to be?

That I could make an impact just like my parents have throughout their lifetimes. I always have individuals come up to me and tell me how my parents have helped them in so many ways. When I look at what my parents have done in comparison to what I have been able to accomplish, I feel like I have been on vacation compared to them. And now as a motivational speaker, I enjoy talking to students and bring a positive message for change. I am creating a leadership curriculum for Urban youth, and this is something that I am passionate about.  I have had the opportunity in my lifetime to learn from some of the worlds, greatest leaders. If you look at my time in college sports, the NBA, and ESPN, I would like to share that knowledge with the individuals I meet, as well as through public speaking events.

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About Landon Buford

Washington State Graduate Past Interviews include Grammy Award Winner Kenny G, David Banner, WNBA President Lisa Borders, Whats Trendings CEO Shira Lazar, Ice Cube, NBC's Chicago PD LaRoyce Hawkins, Family Matters Darius McCrary, En Vogues Maxine Jones, Team USA Track & Field Member Norris Frederick, James Kyson, WNBA Great Lauren Jackson, and more.