Joe Johnson admitted that, while he didn’t give up on the possibility to one day return to the NBA, he didn’t have high hopes it actually would happen.
However, with NBA teams recently signing veteran players and G Leaguers to 10-day contracts due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases as players under contract landed in health and safety protocols, Johnson started to realize an opportunity could be coming.
The 40-year-old Johnson, a veteran of two decades in the NBA, finally got that call Tuesday night while out to dinner in celebration of his daughter’s eighth birthday. Johnson’s agent told him the Celtics were a possibility, then called back a half hour later and asked if Johnson could get on a flight some three hours later to Boston.
“When my agent called me yesterday and told me that this is on the table, it was a no brainer for me,” Johnson said during a video conference Wednesday before the Celtics got set to host the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden.
Johnson referred to it as “preparation meeting opportunity.”
“Obviously, basketball is my first love so, like I said, to have this opportunity to come about, regardless how it came, I’m definitely blessed and appreciative of the moment,” Johnson added. “So yeah, I did think it was a possibility. I’m glad it happened, man. Like I said, we’ll see where it goes from here.”
Johnson signed a 10-day contract with the Celtics on Wednesday. And while ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Johnson was expected to play the same day he arrived, the seven-time All-Star knows his future role with the organization isn’t exactly promised.
He’s fine with that.
“I’m ready for whatever comes my way,” Johnson shared.
Johnson admitted that his last trial in the league, which came with the Detroit Pistons during the 2019 preseason, ended due to him not being in shape to play five-on-five basketball. He played in the Big 3 league, where he was named MVP of the 3-on-3 exhibition, before his stint in Detroit. Johnson, of note, last played in the NBA during the 2017-18 season which he spent with both the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets.
Now, he believes he’s in better shape than he has been in the last eight years.
“I’m glad it happened the way it did,” Johnson said. “I took something from it. Obviously, just tried to rebuild myself. And, you know, just get back to playing and having fun. That’s the most important thing.”
Johnson credited his 14-year-old son for keeping him in the gym. It’s granted him the opportunity to, as he put it, practice what he preaches.
“We work and work and work, and I just always talk to him about just working even when you can’t see what’s next. You just got to continue to work,” Johnson said. “So I’m preaching it, but I’m doing (it) at the same time and this opportunity comes up so, you know, for him as a believer, yeah, I’m just I’m glad I got the opportunity, man. I just want to relish the moment.”
Johnson now returns to the same organization that drafted him No. 10 overall in the 2001 NBA Draft. He played 48 games for the Celtics before being traded to Phoenix where he played the remainder of the 2001-02 season and three campaigns after that. Johnson certainly is known for his time with the Atlanta Hawks, though, where he was selected to an NBA All-Star team for six straight seasons (2006-12). Johnson averaged 16.0 points on 44% shooting in 1,276 career games.
He was asked is there’s any added emotions with his return to Boston.
“I’m just going to join a moment,” Johnson said. “I mean, it’s almost like a familiar place, but I was only here for about six months and my rookie year and I got traded, but you know, it’s fun. It’s still a lot of familiar faces out there for the organization.”
More than anything, though, Johnson wants to make the most of the opportunity over these next 10 days, especially after he wasn’t certain his return to the Association would ever arrive.
“It would be nice to come out here, perform well and have fun. Enjoy this little process that I’ve got and yeah, because then after you know, probably, walk away from the game,” Johnson said. “But I love it so much, man.”