Fans at the Ford Center on Friday night for the Thunder’s game against the Detroit Pistons might’ve heard Josh Howard introduced as he walked the basketball for the opening tip to the middle of the court.
Very few, though, knew the full story that led to that walk or that the best thing that happened in the Ford Center on Friday had nothing to do with Kevin Durant’s 27 points. The biggest shot at the Ford Center on Friday happened hours before tip-off in front of a much-less-than-full house. For 30 seconds at least, Howard was back as a basketball player. The OKC Knights’ game at the Ford Center against Destiny Christian had been scheduled for months. But after Howard suffered a heart attack on Oct. 5 that seemingly ended the 17-year-old’s basketball career, the game Friday took on more importance. Howard asked the doctors if he could play, even just for a minute. He didn’t want his basketball career to end in a church gym during a preseason practice. He wanted at least once more chance in a game. So his doctors relented, agreeing to clear Howard only for a minute of action — and only if the opposing team agreed to not have any contact with Howard. Destiny Christian readily agreed, and Friday afternoon, Howard’s appearance could not have gone better. Off the opening tip, one of Howard’s teammates found him just beyond the NBA 3-point line. He flicked it over to Howard, and he took one step forward, flinging a shot over a Destiny Christian defender. The ball went straight in the basket. The game stopped, and Howard came off the court. "It was just an incredible moment,” OKC Knight coach Randy Graham said, choking up. "It was incredible.” Two and a half months ago, basketball was far from the minds of anyone who knew Howard. There were more important things to think about — life, health, family and faith. On Oct. 5, the Knights were about 15 minutes into a routine practice at Crestwood Baptist Church when Howard fell to the floor. Graham, had his back to Howard at the time but was quickly by Josh’s side. "I picked up his head and thought he was having a seizure,” Graham said. "His jaw was just clinched tight, and his arms were locked up near his chest.” Graham worked to give Howard breaths while 911 was called. Most of Howard’s Knights teammates were on the floor almost immediately after Howard went down, praying for their fallen teammate.