Howard was an All-American center and an honors student at Chicago Vocational Career Academy. Michigan was able to sign him early over numerous competing offers and then convince others in his recruiting class to join him. The Fab Five, which included Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, served as regular starters during their freshman and sophomore years for the 1991–92 and 1992–93 Wolverines. Howard is the last member of the Fab Five who remains active as a professional basketball player. Although many of the Wolverines' accomplishments from 1992 to 1998 were forfeited due to the University of Michigan basketball scandal, which involved booster payments to players to launder money from illegal gambling, Howard's 1993–94 All-American season continues to be recognized.
Howard has played six-and-a-half seasons (1994–2001) for the Bullets franchise (renamed the Wizards in 1997), three full seasons (2004–07) for the Houston Rockets, two plus seasons for the Heat and shorter stints for several other teams. During his rookie year with the Bullets, he became the first player to graduate on time with his class after leaving college early to play in the NBA. After one season as an All-Rookie player and a second as an All-Star and an All-NBA performer, he became the first NBA player to sign a $100 million contract. While he continued to be a productive starter, he was never again selected to play in an All-Star Game. Towards the end of his contract, he was traded at the NBA trade deadline twice to make salary cap room. He was most recently a regular starter during the 2005–06 NBA season. In 2010, he signed with the Heat and entered his 17th NBA season, during which he reached the playoffs for the sixth time and made his first career NBA Finals appearance. He remained with the Heat the following season and won his first NBA championship during the 2012 NBA Finals. He returned to the Heat for part of the following season, and won a second championship. Howard has developed a reputation as a humanitarian for his civic commitment.
Howard's grandmother, Jannie Mae Howard, was the daughter of sharecroppers from Belzoni, Mississippi. She had four daughters by her 19th birthday, including Howard's mother Helena. Helena was an employee at a Chicago restaurant when she became pregnant with Juwan. Howard's father, Leroy Watson, had just returned from the Army to a phone company job in Chicago. The two married quickly once they realized Helena was pregnant. For Howard's first week of life, his high school junior mother kept him in a drawer at Jannie Mae's house. Helena, who was 17 years old, did not want to be restricted or burdened raising her child, so Jannie Mae adopted him. His biological father, Leroy Watson, Jr., wanted to name him Leroy Watson, III, but his grandmother rejected the suggestion, insisting on Juwan Antonio Howard. Although his mother visited on occasion as he was growing up, his grandmother raised him, along with two cousins. Howard has no siblings and is not close to his biological parents;[ his grandmother was the primary influence in his life. He moved with her to several low-income Chicago South Side projects; she kept him out of trouble and away from gangs as he was growing up. One of their residences was a three-bedroom apartment on 69th Street on the South Side of Chicago. As he blossomed under his grandmother's influence and discipline, he became her "pride and joy".
As a senior, Howard edged Griffith and Kiwane Garris for the most votes to the Sun-Times' annual All-Chicago Public School League boys' basketball team. He was also selected to the All-Area team and was a repeat Class-AA All-State selection. Howard, Kleinschmidt and Robinson were all selected to the 10-member first team of Parade magazine's 40-member high school All-America boys' basketball team. They were also chosen to play in the McDonald's All-America game. West MVP Webber posted 28 points and 12 rebounds in the game; with Howard adding 16 points, the West won 108–106. Howard also earned the Gatorade Circle of Champions' Illinois Player of the Year Award. Howard's ACT test score was high enough to make him eligible under Proposition 48 academic requirements to play as a freshman. Only eight of the top 25 Chicago Public School League players achieved a qualifying score on the test.
As his sophomore year began, media reports alleged that three Wolverines basketball players were paid $300 each to participate in a charity basketball tournament in mid-1992, during the off-season. The reports further alleged that some others, including Howard, appeared at several summer basketball camps together, which was a possible violation of NCAA rules. At the beginning of his 1992–93 sophomore season, Michigan returned its top nine scorers and began the season ranked number one in the country by the Associated Press. Michigan lost its second game of the season in a rematch with Duke. Howard was described as the steadiest player on the team that season by coach Fisher. During the season, Howard purchased a million-dollar disability insurance policy approved by the NCAA under the Exceptional Student Athlete Disability Insurance Program available to student-athletes who are projected to be chosen high in the NBA, National Football League (NFL), and Major League Baseball drafts.
In the semifinals of the 1993 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament against Kentucky, Howard contributed on offense and held Jamal Mashburn in check defensively; Mashburn did not make a field goal in the last 12:36 of regulation. Sportswriter Jay Mariotti wrote that Howard had done "a terrific defensive job" in guarding Mashburn. The 31–4 Wolverines were matched up against the 33–4 North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game; both Fisher and North Carolina head coach Dean Smith were seeking their second national title. During the championship game Howard picked up his second personal foul with 9 minutes 42 seconds remaining in the first half and was soon substituted out as the entire team dealt with an accumulation of fouls. The game would be remembered for a late technical foul against Webber for attempting to call a time out when the Wolverines had none left; this led to a Tar Heels victory. Over the course of the season, Howard averaged 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. After the season, Webber and Howard were invited to try out for the United States national basketball team that would compete at the 1993 World University Games and Under-22 World Championships.Howard did not make the team
Miami Heat era (2010–2013)
On July 20, 2010, Howard came to terms for the 2010–11 NBA season with the Miami Heat on a one-year contract for the veteran's minimum salary, which was $1,352,181. Although he was only paid the minimum by the Heat, he was in the final year of his four-year buyout from the Timberwolves. By joining the Heat, Howard joined a team that by the time of the 2011 NBA playoffs, included former champion Dwyane Wade as well as a group of players such as LeBron James and Chris Bosh who had not won an NBA championship despite numerous All-Star game selections. In March, he was featured in the documentary film The Fab Five, which was about his time as a Wolverine, that reignited controversy and reinvigorated the Duke–Michigan basketball rivalry. On March 31, Howard was fined $35,000 for escalating an altercation the night before. Howard was ejected for pushing JaVale McGee, who was attempting to break up a dispute between Zydrunas Ilgauskas and John Wall. For the season, Howard played 57 games for the 2010–11 Heat, all as a reserve. He averaged 2.4 points and 2.1 rebounds with season highs of 18 points and 7 rebounds.The Heat reached the NBA Finals, losing to the Dallas Mavericks four games to two. Howard averaged 1.5 points and .9 rebounds per game during the postseason.
On December 10, 2011, Howard re-signed with the Heat for the same veteran's minimum salary as the year before. Howard appeared in 28 regular season games as a reserve with limited minutes. At age 39, Howard was the third-oldest active player in the league during the 2011–12 NBA season, behind Kurt Thomas and Grant Hill. Before Game 4 of an 2012 NBA playoffs series against the Indiana Pacers, Howard engaged in pregame verbal sparring with Lance Stephenson after Stephenson mocked Howard's teammate James. Despite this incident, Howard was a maturing influence on the team during the playoffs; according to David Neal of The Miami Herald, "More often, Howard stood as the body of reason — getting between Dwyane Wade and Spoelstra against Indiana in Game 3 of the second round, pulling Mario Chalmers away from Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant" On June 21, 2012, Howard became the first and only member of the Fab Five to win an NBA championship, as a role player on the 2011–12 Miami Heat. Howard was on the court as time expired in the series-clinching game because the three stars of the Heat (James, Wade and Bosh) had arranged it. Howard spoke about representing the Fab Five after the Heat won the 2012 NBA Finals. A teammate with the Heat was Shane Battier, who grew up in Detroit as a fan of the Fab Five and idolized Howard. In his early teens, Battier sought Howard's autograph on a pair of sneakers and a few years later became a part of the Duke–Michigan basketball rivalry when he turned down the local scholarship offer from Michigan to play for Duke Blue Devils men's basketball. Following the season, Howard became an unrestricted free agent. At the 20th annual ESPY Awards, Howard and Heat teammate Mike Miller took to the stage to accept the award for Team of the Year.
On February 21, 2013, the Heat traded Dexter Pittman to create space on the roster to pursue a more experienced big man. On March 2, 2013, Howard signed a 10-day contract with the 2012–13 Miami Heat. On March 12, 2013, he signed a second 10-day contract with the Heat, and on March 22, 2013, he was signed for the remainder of the season. He made his first appearance of the season for the Heat on March 24 against the Charlotte Bobcats tallying two points, a rebound and two assists in three minutes of play as the Heat made their way to their 26th consecutive victory. On April 15, he made his first start since April 14, 2010 as the Heat defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers without James, Wade, Bosh, Battier, Chalmers and Udonis Haslem in the penultimate game of the regular season. Howard's April 17 start in the season finale against the Orlando Magic marked Howard's 900th career start. On May 30, during halftime of game 5 of the Eastern Conference championship against the Indiana Pacers, Howard delivered a passionate speech that fired up the team in its clinching game. With the retirement of Grant Hill on June 1, 2013, Howard became the oldest active player in the NBA at age 40. During the playoffs, Howard did not play, but he served as a quasi-assistant coach.