By Daryl Moore
Special to the AFRO
Leon Howard Sr., a Baltimore basketball icon, was immortalized on Sept. 4, when a street was named after him. The signage was placed on the corner of Aisquith and Orleans Street facing toward Orleans in East Baltimore. “The new portion of this street will be forever known as Mr. Leon Howard Way,” said his daughter, Kauscha Howard.
The renowned coach is so well respected, his former players still address him as “Mr. Howard.” Along with Howard, former players for Mr. Howard, including Timmy Greene, spearheaded the push to get the street named after Mr. Howard.
“We wanted to make sure he got his roses while he was here to see them,” Greene said, “Instead of honoring him after he was gone.”
“Mr. Howard is a legendary piece of Baltimore City basketball history,” Howard said.
“My father played sports because he came from a sports family where all of his siblings played sports,” Kauscha said. In high school, Mr. Howard played basketball, football and baseball. After attending Norwich Free Academy High School, Mr. Howard left there to play in college at Johnson C. Smith University all four years.
So, sports were in Mr. Howard’s DNA, a legacy that continued with his own family. In fact, Mr. Howard met his wife Patricia at Eastwood recreation where she taught dance.
And it didn’t stop there. “My father has passed his love of sports to his three children,” Kauscha said. “My oldest brother Leon Howard Jr. played basketball for Poly and then Shippensburg University before passing of aplastic anemia.”
While Howard shared his love of tennis and track and field, she said she ultimately spent her life dancing and creating her own dance troupe (CHASSE).
Mr. Howard’s second son, Jamal Howard Sr., played basketball and football throughout his youth and is still involved in leagues today.
Before heading to the Department of Recreation and Parks’ main office to serve as Sports and Athletics Administrator, Mr. Howard spent time at Cherry Hill Aquatic Center and Oliver Recreation Center. Being at the main office gave him a chance to expand his reach to all of Baltimore.
One of the most important ways Mr. Howard prepared his players was through discipline. Due to lack of funds, his players shared jerseys. If you didn’t have a jersey, you didn’t play. However, since a jersey could only be earned by practicing hard, that really taught the players discipline. If you didn’t come to practice and learn the plays, you weren’t going to play.
Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, who played 14-seasons in the NBA, was on hand to honor his coach and mentor at the ceremony. Bogues, who was also named the Charlotte Hornets’ Ambassador as well as ambassador for the NBA, said, “Mr. Howard gave us the confidence to believe that our dreams could come true. Not only did he teach us the physical skill sets, he also mentally prepared us for the challenges ahead. But most importantly, Mr. Howard emphasized education. A college graduate himself, Mr. Howard made sure we were well-rounded. It propelled us to become the men and women we all wanted to be.”
The list of people whose lives were impacted by Mr. Howard is extensive and includes well accomplished players like Larry Gibson, the first inner-city Baltimore City Public School basketball player to attend the nationally known Five Star Basketball Camp; Allen “Skip” Wise, the first freshman basketball player to make 1st Team Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC); Reginald William, high school Player of the Year, who led Georgetown University to their first NCAA Championship and was drafted fourth by the NBA (Los Angeles Clippers); Sam Cassell, Houston Rockets 24th round draft pick, who won two NBA championships and served as an NBA coach and assistant coach.
Howard said all were tutored under Mr. Howard and all found a second home at Lafayette Recreation Center, with Mr. Howard as their mentor.
“Basketball wasn’t looked at highly in Baltimore until Mr. Howard came to Lafayette Recreation Center,” former player Charles “Duke” Richardson said.
In all, over 80 basketball players who were mentored under Leon Howard, Sr. have been All City, All MSA, All Metro and All State, which goes to show that Mr. Howard created a breeding ground for some of America’s top athletic talent and is truly a Baltimore treasure.