I was going to write an article about Dennis Johnson, but when Bob Ryan is on top of his game there isn’t anything you can write that will shed any more light on the story. And Ryan absolutely brought his ‘A’ game when he penned his piece about Johnson. Here’s a little excerpt.
But as is the case with any legitimately great player, his essence cannot be gleaned from a résumé. As much as any great player I can think of, it can truly be said that there was no one like him.
It wasn’t one thing; it was everything. Ninth of 16 children. A nobody coming out of high school. Drove a forklift before going to junior college. Second-round Seattle pick out of Pepperdine who caught the eye of coach Bill Russell. Zero-for-14 in Game 7 of the 1978 Finals as the Sonics lost to Washington and the aforementioned MVP a year later. Successful three-year tenure in Phoenix, but saddled with label of being a handful. Traded to Boston for Rick Robey (there were other minor matters).
The red hair. The freckles. The classic two-guard body. The conversion to nominal floor leader, although you’d never really confuse him with a point guard. The cheeks puffing out, a la Dizzy Gillespie, as he brought the ball upcourt. Those deadly poke-check steals. The power drives. The line-drive jumpers. The dribbling of the basketball to signify how many years he’d been in the league before every foul shot. The off-the-dribble, halfcourt bullets to a cutting Bird along the baseline. The overdue switch to guard Magic Johnson after Game 3 of the 1984 Finals, after which he neutralized him while scoring 22, 22, 20, 22 points in Games 4, 5, 6, and 7, respectively. And, yes, the nights he’d occasionally take off, always doing it for a home game against a team the Celtics were going to defeat and always having the courtesy to announce his intentions internally beforehand. That’s part of the Dennis Johnson package, too.
It’s a masterpiece, so please check it out.
As for Bird, he was pumped about Johnson’s election.
“It’s very special. We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” he said. “He’s the best player I ever played with.”
And he’s finally in the Hall of Fame. Congrats, DJ. You should have been inducted years ago.