Dennis Johnson (DJ) should have been on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team. Allow me – a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan who hates the Celtics to the point that I would not even buy green clothing for decades – to tell you why.
Dennis Johnson: Winner and Defender
First, in his prime, DJ was the best on ball and off ball defender at the guard position. He shut down Magic Johnson in the 1984 Finals, putting Magic into what Magic himself called “the cage”. DJ’s long arms, upper body strength, guile, and deceptive quickness were too much for the greatest point guard of all time in the most critical moments of that finals. I was there for it all and I could not believe what I saw. Magic’s subpar performance in ’84 sent Magic and all of Southern California into a depression that summer that was only exorcised by the Lakers’ win over the Celtics in the 1985 Finals.
Secondly, he was a winner. DJ lead the Seattle Supersonics to back to back NBA finals. The Supersonics won it all in 1979. DJ averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 six assists in that series. He also added 14 blocked shots. He won Finals MVP. DJ won two titles with the Celtics. He played at least 72 games every season. He logged big minutes as a point guard who guarded the opponents’ most dangerous guard. This is not done in the game today. DJ deserves to be on the 75th Anniversary team for that reason alone. His career is a monument to when being the lead guard meant taking charge at both ends of the floor. He would be a max player in today’s game and hailed as the best two way player in the league.
Lastly, the great Larry Bird said DJ was the best player he ever played with. Bird played with Kevin McHale, one of the best players I’ve seen in watching the NBA since 1977. Bird didn’t compliment anyone – opponent or teammate – to that degree.
Bonus point: Dennis Johnson had the most freckles of any black player in NBA history. We have to immortalize that somehow.
The Great Exchange
I can hear you: “All right, old guy, who comes off the list?”
I have two candidates for removal. It would be right and just for DJ to replace either one. And the extra perk for me is they are both Celtics. Here are the two:
Robert Parish for sure does not belong on any NBA 75 list whether you judge him for history or impact. Yes, he was part of the original (and only in my book) Big 3 but so what? In those days every team played with two forwards and a center. Parish just happened to stand between two giants of the game in Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. Full credit to him for being on the court with them but it would have been a Big 3 if Tree Rollins had been in Parish’s place. If the list was NBA 75 Nicknames, then the Chief would belong on that team but it’s a list for what you did on the court. Parish was never better than the fourth best center in the league at any time in his career.
I would bounce Paul Pierce for DJ, too. Pierce was a great player but leaving an NBA Finals game in a wheelchair only to return ten minutes to run and jump like a decathlete is disqualifying. I admit I am a petty Lakers fan who is still bitter about the 2008 Finals but it’s my list. Deal with it.
Those of us who saw him play will always remember Dennis Johnson. The NBA 75 is incomplete without him. belongs NBA 75 DJ belongs NBA 75 DJ belongs NBA 75 DJ belongs NBA 75