Growing up in Southern California Stanley Johnson used to pray that one day he'd make it big.
In some ways, the Toronto Raptors forward was no different than the thousands of other young basketball players with hoop dreams.
"I’d ask God ‘can you just please put me on an NBA team and if I could run the bench for 10 years, I'll be the happiest MFer in the world,'" Johnson said Thursday night.
But with his successes in life things started to change. As he climbed to the highest levels of high school hoops and college basketball those dreams began to get larger and larger. By 24, he said, you start to get ungrateful for things.
The past few seasons have been trying for Johnson on the court. He's gone from being a highly-touted lottery pick in Detroit to an afterthought on the Raptors' bench. Thursday night, however, was a reminder of the kind of talent Johnson can be when everything is clicking. His 35 points against the Chicago Bulls were by far the most of his career.
"He really had a good one going," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "I think you can look at all the numbers and stuff but the one that probably stands out to me is the no turnovers. Right? So he found a way to get it out when he was covered and he made good passes and stuff."
Johnson's future in the NBA right now remains uncertain. He's shown he can be a high-level defensive stopper. He held his own against Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Jayson Tatum, and LeBron James, but more often than not Johnson's offensive game has been missing. It's why a spot on the Raptors next season would seem unlikely. But there may be another team looking to add a quality defender with some athletic upside.
"I've been in a lot of jobs like this where we always thought somebody was watching," Nurse said. "You never knew who was watching and what happens when you only get kind of limited times to go out there and show what you're capable of. So he took advantage of that, that's for sure."
That's why players like Johnson and Toronto's other lesser-used players have been working their butts off lately. Not only are they trying to prove to the Raptors they deserve a spot on next year's team, but in reality they're auditioning for one of the 530 NBA jobs and a spot on any team next season.
Now, at the very least, Johnson can head into the offseason proud of what he accomplished Thursday night. A 35-point performance in the NBA is unimaginable for most people.
"As much as you kill yourself when you're down you also gotta give yourself a pat in the butt when you're up," Johnson said. "I shoot a lot of shots and I do a lot of stuff so to be able to play a decent game a good game. I'm happy."