Hall of Fame Honor Overdue for Legendary Late Dennis Johnson

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April 5, 2010

Hall of Fame Honor Overdue for Legendary Late Dennis Johnson A question for the fine men and women of the Honors Committee at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame:

Uh, what took so long?

A full two decades after walking away from the game of basketball as one of the greatest point guards of his era, Dennis Johnson was posthumously elected to the Hall, as announced at a ceremony on Monday afternoon in Indianapolis. He joins Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton as the fifth member of the 1985-86 Celtics — widely considered the best team in franchise history — to be enshrined in Springfield, Mass.

DJ retired, after a 14-year career in the NBA, at the conclusion of the 1989-90 season. He’s been eligible for inclusion in the Hall since ’95. And he’s just now, more than three years after the heart attack that took his life at the age of 52, getting the recognition he’s long deserved.

DJ was a five-time All-Star and a three-time champion in the NBA. He was one of those rare players who was able to carry multiple teams to finals glory — he starred with the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1979 finals in just his third year in the league, becoming a dominating crunch-time scorer and carrying the franchise to its only title. He then came to Boston for the second half of his career, where he facilitated the offense for the original Big Three of Bird, McHale and Parish on the mid-1980s Celtics.

He also developed into a more complex, well-rounded player as his career progressed. He became one of the best defensive guards in the NBA — his defense was a hallmark during his time with the Celtics. One of the league’s bigger guards at 6-foot-4, he became one of the more physical players around and one of the better rebounders. He was the yin to the yang of smaller point guards like Isiah Thomas — he changed the position by bringing his own unique style.

DJ defied the odds to become one of the game’s greats. He was born in Compton, the eighth of 16 children born to a bricklayer and a social worker. He wasn’t a natural-born athlete — he didn’t even make his high school team until his senior year, and even when he caught on, he was seen as a selfish player and a clubhouse cancer.

The knocks against DJ’s character never went away. He clashed with teammates and coaches. He was chased out of Seattle, even though he won them a title, and he was run out of Phoenix three years later. It wasn’t until he got to Boston that he really shined.

In Boston, DJ became known as a great all-around player and a floor leader for one of the best basketball teams ever assembled. Bird would refer to him as the best teammate he ever had. It’s here, where DJ had his best years, where he’s best remembered. And it’s here that we’re the most proud to see him finally enshrined.

It’s a shame he didn’t live to see it. He worked hard for 52 years to reach this point, where he could be remembered as one of the greats. He never got to see his hard work pay off with the ultimate prize.

Dennis Johnson never knew he was a Hall of Famer. If only we could congratulate him.

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