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Heat’s Howard bemoans demise of playground hoops because of violence

2013 NBA Finals - Game Four

2013 NBA Finals - Game Four

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Series tied 2-2
All games on Ch. 7/1000-AM

G1: Spurs 92, at Heat 88

G2: at Heat 103, Spurs 84

G3: at Spurs 113, Heat 77

G4: Heat 109, at Spurs 93

G5: Sunday at Spurs, 7 p.m.

G6: Tuesday at Heat, 8 p.m.

*G7: Thursday at Heat, 8 p.m.

*if necessary

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Updated: July 17, 2013 7:18AM

SAN ANTONIO — Don’t let the “Miami’’ on Juwan Howard’s warm-up fool you.

That’s just where the latest paycheck and championship ring come from.

His heart and soul are still in Chicago, never really left.

There isn’t much Howard, 40, hasn’t seen in his 19 years in the NBA. But what he’s seeing on the South Side saddens him.

“When I was a kid, we used to play on the playground a lot,’’ Howard said Saturday. “We would play all day, spend countless hours on different playgrounds and playing in different neighborhoods against the best five from that neighborhood in their playground.

“Kids don’t have that safe haven because of the violence that’s going on, a lot of shootings, so they have to find gyms.

‘‘When I was coming up, I had to learn through the grass roots. When you were playing on the playgrounds, you learned toughness because there were some mean games going on.

“There was verbal abuse as well as some physical abuse, and when it comes to that verbal-abuse part, it teaches you mental toughness. When I came to the collegiate level, I was a step ahead. The Chicago playgrounds prepared me for the NBA, for life.’’

But as much as he treasures those life lessons he learned on 69th Street, then playing at Vocational, the days of the playground grinding out elite players is dying. Especially in Chicago.

“As a parent myself, if I take my kid to a park, I’m going to make sure I’m with them all day just to watch over their safety and well-being,’’ Howard said. “Are they going to be able to get what I got as a kid? No, and that stuff helped. Kids now with all the AAU, it hurts their development a little bit. It’s too bad.’’

That’s why Howard has an annual basketball camp for inner-city kids in Chicago every offseason, and that’s also why he has so much respect for Bulls guard Derrick Rose.

In Howard’s eyes, Rose is the perfect mix of a player who was tutored on the blacktop but disciplined enough to use the AAU circuit to his advantage. Howard and Rose played AAU ball for Tyrone Slaughter’s Ferrari.

“I knew he was going to be special,’’ Howard said of the first time he saw Rose play as a youngster. “Some kids you look at, and you can just tell.’’

But when it comes to comparisons between his Heat team and Michael Jordan’s Bulls dynasty teams of the 1990s, Howard reserves judgment.

“I’m not the type of guy that gets caught up in which era was better, was the Miami Heat team better than the Bulls team that won 72 games,’’ Howard said. “The rules have changed the game. Until the two teams play one another at the same time, that’s how we can compare who was better, and that will never happen.

“I’m a realist.’’

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