Dennis Johnson, 1954-2007Five-time All-Star Dennis Johnson passed away on Thursday, apparently of a heart attack. Much like Pistol Pete Maravich died on the court after playing a pickup game, Johnson collapsed and could not be revived while he was on the court working with one of his NBDL players after a practice. Johnson coached the Austin Toros and longed to get an opportunity to helm an NBA team.
"Bird stole the ball" is one of the most famous calls in NBA history, but without Johnson's timely cut so that Bird could feed him for a layup Bird's theft would have gone for naught in Boston's game five victory over Detroit in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. After that play they shared a brief embrace on the way back to the bench. Bird has long said that DJ was the best teammate he ever had and it is easy to understand why. Johnson was a clutch player, a tenacious defender and a good playmaker. His jump shot was erratic but he had an uncanny ability to make jumpers in big situations, like the one he hit to sink the Lakers in game four of the 1985 NBA Finals. Johnson won the 1979 Finals MVP after leading the Sonics to their only NBA title and twice earned All-NBA honors but he willingly took on a lesser--but still very important--role when Boston acquired him prior to the 1983-84 season. The Celtics needed someone who could at least slow down 76ers guard Andrew Toney, who had earned the nickname "The Boston Strangler" after shooting down the Celtics with 34 points in game seven of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals in Boston. It is not a coincidence that Boston won two titles in the first three years after Johnson became a Celtic. He guarded Magic Johnson about as well as anyone did at that time.
Johnson made the All-Defensive Team for nine straight seasons (1979-87). Though he stood just 6-4 he was an exceptional shot blocker for a guard, particularly in his first few seasons. He blocked 59 shots in 54 playoff games with the Sonics in his first three seasons in the NBA, twice leading the team to the NBA Finals. In game three of the 1978 Finals he blocked seven shots, one off of the NBA Finals single game record that is held by Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan.
Johnson's relationship with Sonics' Coach Lenny Wilkens soured and he was traded to Phoenix, where he was an effective player for three seasons. Then the Suns traded him to Boston for Rick Robey, who turned out to be a non-factor in Phoenix. TNT's Charles Barkley has repeatedly said that Johnson deserves to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and a strong case can definitely be made for Johnson based on the essential contributions that he made to three championship teams.
posted by David Friedman @ 11:49 PM