When Matt Fish asked me to write something for Rebound magazine since I’ve photographed two All-Star weeks and two World Sports Conference weekends. I had to admit what most Legends probably recognize, I’m struggling to remember 100’s of names and know little about the ABA or NBA’s past.
I grew up in a family that raced Funny Cars in the UDRA and NHRA in the 1960’s 70’s and myself, motorcycles in the 1980’s. Legends to me where Don Garlits, Shirley Mouldowney and Don Prodhomme who where “neighbors” at the race track.
The only professional Basketball player who went drag racing was Tom Hammonds and that was in the 1990’s I missed meeting him. Or have I at a Legends event?
I’ve found the Legends/members of the NBRPA to be a fantastic group.
Unassuming and camera friendly, which makes the “work” during the events a lot of fun. (the real work is the week on the computer following!)
Having to do some research in order to write anything about a player, I chose one of the nicest guys I’ve met in the Legends, Howard Smith “of the Globetrotters” and that’s what I knew of him upon first introduction because that’s all he had to say about himself. So this becomes what I’ve seen of Howard with the Legends and what Howard didn’t bother to tell me about himself until I looked it up and asked him some questions.
I met Howard as we climbed into a van outside the Walt Disney World Swan in Orlando. The Legends Band headed for Evans High School as a part of the Legends Care Music & Education Series. Howard and I landed in the back seat together, where I opened up my camera bag and he spied my “stash” a couple of bottles of water, granola bars and Hostess fruit pies. He just smiled at me as I exclaimed “I never know where I’m going or how long I’ll be stuck there!” His response was simply something on the order of “oh you do know how to travel”. The incarnation of the Legends Band that day included Calvin Natt (bass), Luther Wright (guitar), Bob Elliott (drums), Andrew Toolson (keyboards), Howard Smith (keyboards) and Kym Hampton (vocals). Set up at Evans High School was “controlled chaos” I was impressed with how calmly they set up while Dan Barnett made a highly motivational presentation to the students. The band came on and did three songs backed by the schools marching band. Cheerleaders shared the stage and students came on stage impromptu singing with Kym, it was a fun scene.
Two days later at the 13th Annual Legends Brunch the band played again and I learned that the lineup also includes Terrry Cummings (keyboards and vocals), Thurl Bailey (vocals) and Anthony Avent (vocals).
As I said, one of the nicest most outgoing fellows I’ve met always a smile a handshake and how’s it going. From posing with Army reservists to doing Radio interview time with Coach Charlie Hatcher on Sports Inside and Out. And on Sunday night at the Orlando Chapters “after party” Fire and Ice at the Citrus restaurant where Howard was accompanied by his daughter Rishona and his cousin John Smith who lives in Orlando.
Some things I didn’t know about Howard at the time. He’s from Birmingham Alabama, where he attended George Washington Carver High School 1959-63. He was on the track and field team as well as playing basketball. He ran low hurdles and was coached by Evelyn (Lawler) Lewis from Tuskegee University, mother of future Olympian Carl Lewis using “two chairs and a bamboo stick”. In his senior year he was Alabama State Champion in the 180yrd low hurdles. In talking Howard didn’t delve deeply into his high school basketball career but it must have been highly competitive. He mention competing with Parker High School the largest Afro American high school in the area reminding me these where still the days of segregation. In fact it was a “big deal” when coach Bob Wright brought Howard to Morehead State University a de-segregated school on scholarship. The side story is this, he chose to go to Morehead because it was within range of Cincinnati Ohio. “I asked the coach if we could go to Cincinnati from there and see Oscar Robertson play with the Royals, coach said yes so I went to Morehead”. That Royals team included Jerry Lucas and Wayne Embry as well.
So he started college in track and basketball. On the track team he promptly met Jerry Betts from Cambridge Ohio who could outrun him in the low hurdles by almost a second so where talking basketball here. After a successful freshman year (freshman team required) Howard in his sophomore year became the first African-American to play varsity for the Morehead State Eagles. Bruce King also from Carver High School in Birmingham had joined Howard on the Eagles freshman team during second semester of the 1963-1964 season. As Howard said “I sent coach back to Birmingham to get Lamar Green and he also came back with Willie Jackson from a rival school”.
This group Howard Smith, Bruce King, Lamar Green and Willie Jackson became known as the “Birmingham Four”. The first group of players to come from outside of Morehead States “general service region” they brought recognition to the MSU basketball program as a force to be reckoned with in the Ohio Valley Conference.
All four have been inducted into the Morehead State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Howard graduated from MSU with a Bachelors of Science and Master’s degree in Education. Later a certificate in Advanced Education Study from the University of Alabama as well as doctorial study’s at the University of Houston.
Next time I met Howard was in New Orleans for the Legends World Sports Conference August 2013. He was one of the first people I ran into at Li’l Dizzy’s Café. First stop on a whirlwind weekend as off from Li’l Dizzy’s we bussed to the Zephyrs baseball game where 20+ Legends threw out the first pitch for the evenings game. Saturday included Dedication ceremonies and a Basketball Clinic at the A.L. Davis Park, Central City although it was a very rainy day –covered outdoor basketball courts! Something I’d never seen before, Howard participated with a large group of players teaching basics and running drills with local youth. I had a ball shooting it as well. Another event of the day was a visit to the World War II Museum with a dozen players. Excellent museum and presentation with a multi media movie produce by Tom Hanks. My personal recommendation if your going to be in New Orleans this coming February for All-Star week. (and no photography aloud during the movie, I had a break!)
Howard tells me now how much he enjoyed the World War II museum as again “what I didn’t know about Howard” In 1967 there was a lot going on including the draft for the Viet Nam war. He was invited for a tryout with the San Francisco Warriors, had a offer from the Columbus Comets to play semi-pro and even received a letter of inquiry from the Dallas Cowboys football team as they where scouting basketball players. He signed on waivers with the Kentucky Colonels head coach Johnny Gibbons and joined the Harlem Globetrotters “West Unit” going overseas where his roommate was Curly Neal.
While in Bologna Italy with the Globetrotters he received his draft notice and had to fly immediately back to the states arriving at Maxwell Air Force Base he was sent to basic training at Fort Polk Louisiana and on to advanced infantry training at Fort Ord California. While at Fort Ord he received orders to Viet Nam but was categorized a “hold over” because his brother was already in Viet Nam. He was sent instead to South Korea, Camp Hoovy (or Camp “cold” Hoovy as Howard put it) Special Forces 7th Army Division where he spent 13 months. He was on the All Army Basketball team and in charge of the base gymnasium and recreation programs. The military was a two year obligation but the Globetrotters obtained his release 5 months early so (I can understand why Howard remembers this date exactly) on January 12 1970 he flew to Seattle Washington to meet the team, then directly on tour to Hawaii, the Philippines and Hong Kong without even a stop home to see family! In his time with the Globetrotters he traveled five continents, noting he missed Africa and Antarctica.
Another side of Howard is his music, I asked when he started playing keyboards and he joked “ piano at four years old” but that didn’t last. He picked it back up when he met Nate Branch in the Globetrotters and used hotel piano’s to practice while on the road.
He also played in a band while in the military as well. His music got more serious when in 1971 he married, and left the Globetrotters returning to Morehead State where he met Kevin Settles a music major, they started a live radio show called Jazz Scene which they did for two years and Howard took “real” music lessons. During this time he was student teaching and assistant track coach, thus began a long career of teaching and coaching.
In 1973 he was back in Birmingham as head basketball coach at Minor High School. 1974-75 he coached basketball at Hayes High School leading the team to the regional semi-finals. 1976 it was off to Prairie View Texas as an assistant track coach (hurdles of course) and director of Intramural Sports at Prairie View A&M. From 1980-87 he coached at Houston high schools and in 1987 was again an assistant coach at A&M.
Moving back east from 1988-91 he was Athletic Director, Basketball and Track Coach at Knoxville College. During this time he was still in the Army Reserves and was called back to service during Desert Storm, stationed in Saudi Arabia. His only regret about this was missing his daughters high school prom but was happily back home for her graduation.
In 1991 he moved back to the Houston Texas area to coach basketball at Montgomery high school leading that team to regional playoffs. He later coached at Alief Elsik High School (alma-matte of Rashard Lewis/Miami Heat Howard points out) and taught at Jane Long Middle School, retiring in 2007. During this period he also fit in a 2-3 year stint working in game management for the Houston Rockets at the Summit.
I arrived in Houston where Howard is secretary for the Houston Chapter of the NBRPA. He greeted me in the lobby of the Hotel Derek with the same big smile, hand shake and how you doing. We visited several times in Houston and went to Jack Yates High School for the Legends Kids Get Fit Community Clinic. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee spoke presenting the Legends with a Congressional Certificate of Recognition, Arnie Fielkow unveiled the NBRPA’s Full Court Press program, successful to this day. And then the Legends took over the gymnasium for what they do best, teach the kids some basketball.
Back to the music, these days he plays the dinner hour six nights a week at Raoul’s Italian Grill in Spring Texas (N. Houston) accompanied on Friday, Saturday and Sunday brunch by a guitarist playing standards and jazz. He also has a band called the Mix Masters, similar to the Legends with Rob Ashton (Harlem Globetrotter) on drums and vocals, and Chip Winkel on bass playing R&B covers. Outside of this he “works” at his golf game and is a volunteer little league basketball coach ~ busy guy and I’m happy know him a little better for writing this.