The Boston Celtics were staggering in the spring of 1983. They were only two years removed from a championship season and had Hall of Fame-bound superstars
The 4-0 embarrassment infuriated
Then Red got Larry some big-time help. One day before the 1983 draft, Auerbach shocked the basketball world, acquiring
In a lifetime of great deals, this was one of Red's best. The Celtics won two championships in three seasons after Johnson came on board. He played seven seasons with the Green, had his number 3 retired in 1991 and, on Monday, was finally named to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Too bad he didn't live long enough to enjoy the honor. Johnson died of a heart attack in 2007 at age 52.
What a life. What a career.
He grew up on the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, one of 16 children. He didn't make varsity until his senior year of high school and went to work driving a forklift in a tape warehouse after he got his diploma. He played ball in local leagues and was "discovered" by
That was Dennis Johnson. His game was defense and clutch play. He was never a fluid shooter. But he could score. And he wanted the ball at the end of the game.
Johnson had maturity issues early in his career. Seattle coach
And Red Auerbach got him for Rick Robey.
Robey was a nice guy, a 6-foot-11 lug who won an NCAA championship at Kentucky in 1978. But he was not a starter and he was no Dennis Johnson. He played only three NBA seasons after the deal, never averaging six points.
In Boston, Johnson emerged as a Hall of Famer. Bird called him the greatest teammate he ever played with. It was no accident that Bird won the MVP in each of the first three seasons after Johnson came to the Celtics. The Celtics made the Finals in Johnson's first four seasons.
That's why Red got him. He knew the Celtics were not going anywhere unless they could get past the Lakers, and DJ was a guy who'd regularly banged up against Magic while playing in the Western Conference. In Johnson's first season with the Celtics, Boston beat L.A. in an epic seven-game series. Two years later, the Celtics won another championship.
There were never maturity issues in Boston. His scoring went from 19 points per game to 12 per game four seasons after the trade, but he knew he didn't need to score on a team with Bird, Parish and McHale. Johnson became the consummate teammate, a true leader.
His basketball instincts were spectacular. Hoop fans remember Bird's historic steal of an
He was funny, too. I'll never forget sitting at the courtside press table during a game when Johnson came over to say something while he was bringing the ball up court. Slightly annoyed that he could hear my colleague
When the champion Celtics visited the White House on a smoking-hot day in June of '84, Johnson turned to
After retirement, Johnson was a Celtic assistant coach for four seasons. He was in interim head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers (who hasn't been?) for 24 games in 2002-03 and was coaching the Austin Toros in the NBDL when he died suddenly in 2007.
It's a shame he never lived to enjoy this honor. Everybody he played with, everybody he played against, knows that Dennis Johnson belongs in the Hall of Fame.