Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hallelujah, D.J. Gets into the Hall

Johnson flanked by fellow Celtic greats Bird and McHale

It was nice to see the late Boston Celtics point guard Dennis Johnson finally honored with election to the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s too bad he’s no longer with us to enjoy it.

Besides being a stalwart defensive player in the tradition of the great Celtics players from the glory days of the 1960s onward, D.J. was also one of the best players ever when the game was on the line. Even if he was having an off night, you could still count on him to come through in the clutch: sinking a pull-up jumper near the top of the key, stealing the ball or driving to the hoop and getting to the line to sink crucial free throws.

The Big Three may have got all the attention, but they wouldn’t have accomplished all they did were it not for D.J.’s adeptness at dishing them the ball. Larry Bird didn’t hesitate to call D.J. the best player he had ever played with. That’s no faint praise from the Celtics legend.

Even though Johnson spent the first half of his career as a star for the Seattle Supersonics, he retired firmly entrenched in Boston sports lore. His number hangs revered right beside Bird’s in the Garden rafters. Despite his celebrity status locally during the 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon to see D.J. around town, often with his family in tow. I ran into him once at TGI Friday’s on Newbury Street (he gave me a friendly, if low-key hello when I nodded in his direction) and my wife ran into him in the grocery store in Lexington once or twice.

Veteran basketball columnist Bob Ryan has a nice tribute to Johnson in today’s Boston Globe. Worth checking out and recalling D.J.’s heart, grit and critical role on the Celtics’ championship teams of the mid ’80s.

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