Dennis Johnson - #3 - Boston Celtics

Guard | 6'4" | 202 lbs. | Born: September 18, 1954

  • Three-time NBA champion
  • No. 3 retired by the Celtics
  • Finals MVP in 1979
  • Five-time NBA All-Star
  • Six-time All-NBA Defensive First Team selection
  • NBA Development League's Coach of the Year award named in his honor

Acquired from the Phoenix Suns with 1983 first- and third-round draft choices for Rick Robey and two 1983 second-round draft choices on June 27, 1983.

Larry Bird

Dennis Johnson - Biography

#3

Dennis Johnson is ceremoniously known in the basketball universe by just two letters: DJ. He spent only seven seasons with Boston, but boy, were those seven seasons memorable.

Johnson was acquired from the Phoenix Suns on June 27, 1983 in exchange for Rick Robey and two second-round draft choices. The move, orchestrated by Red Auerbach, turned out to be yet another genius decision by the longtime Celtics executive.

Seven successful seasons were already under Johnson’s belt at that point. He played shooting guard for nearly all of those seven seasons and was known as a strong scorer and tenacious defender. He put up at least 18.8 PPG in three consecutive seasons from 1979-82 and also made five consecutive NBA All-Defensive First Teams.

Despite all of the scoring, Auerbach saw a different pair of intangibles within Johnson: point guard skills and leadership. He hit the nail on the head on both of those traits.

Johnson turned himself into a point guard upon his arrival in Boston and experienced immediate success. Paired with the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the Celtics won a title in Johnson’s first season with the team. This was Johnson’s second NBA title, as he had already won a ring with the Seattle SuperSonics back in 1979.

Johnson had never averaged more than 5.0 APG in his seven seasons prior to joining Boston. As he quickly adapted to a new style of play, he averaged at least 5.8 APG in six of his seven seasons with the C’s, including an career-high 7.8 APG during the 1978-79 season.

His point guard skills and defense were incredibly important to the Celtics, particularly because Magic Johnson was a man the team would need to go through in order to win championships. DJ played lockdown defense on Magic during the 1984 Finals, leading to Magic calling DJ “the best backcourt defender of all-time” upon his retirement in 1991.

Johnson’s defense against Magic wasn’t needed for his second championship with the Celtics. Instead, Boston took down the Houston Rockets’ Twin Towers of Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1986.

Johnson retired following the 1989-90 season after the Celtics chose not to extend a contract offer to him. Johnson received another high level of praise after his retirement, this time from Bird. Larry Legend called Johnson the best teammate he ever had in his autobiography. Coming from a guy like Bird, who had played with several Hall of Famers, that was quite a statement.

The Hall of Fame didn’t come calling Johnson’s number until 2010, but the Celtics retired his jersey almost immediately in the winter of 1991. Johnson’s No. 3 was raised to the rafters on Dec. 13, 1991 as many of his former teammates looked on in celebration.

Like many Celtics players before him, Johnson moved on from his playing days and filled his basketball void by becoming an executive. He began his post-playing days as a scout for the Celtics but quickly moved into the coaching ranks. He spent several seasons as an assistant coach before finally getting a head coaching gig – albeit an interim one – with the Los Angeles Clippers after the team had fired Alvin Gentry. However, the Clippers went just 8-16 in Johnson’s 24 games and he was not retained as head coach.

Johnson persevered through those struggles and continued to coach. He was named the head coach of the NBA Development League’s Florida Flame in 2004 and later held the same position with the Austin Toros.

The story of Johnson’s life did not end on a positive note. He was tragically taken from the world on Feb. 22, 2007 after suffering a sudden heart attack. He was head coach of the Toros at that point and just 52 years old.

Although Johnson is no longer here, his legacy will live on forever. Celtics players and fans alike will see his number hanging in the rafters for the remainder of time, and his name also sits proudly in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He’ll be considered a Celtic at every glance he gets at those two locations.

DENNIS JOHNSON

Height: 6'4" Weight: 202 LBS Birth: 09/18/54 College: PEPPERDINE '76
Traded by the Phoenix Suns with 1983 first and third-round draft choices for Rick Robey and two 1983 second-round draft choices on June 27, 1983... retired in 1990.

Regular Season Record
Year G MIN FGM FGA PCT FTM FTA PCT OFF DEF TOT AST PF-DQ ST BL PTS AVG
83-84 80 2665 384 878 .437 281 330 .852 87 193 280 338 251-6 93 57 1053 13.2
84-85 80 2976 493 1066 .462 261 306 .853 91 226 317 543 224-2 96 39 1254 15.7
85-86 78 2732 482 1060 .455 243 297 .818 69 199 268 456 206-3 110 35 1213 15.6
86-87 79 2933 423 953 .444 209 251 .833 45 216 261 594 201-0 87 38 1062 13.4
87-88 77 2670 352 803 .438 255 298 .856 62 178 240 598 204-0 93 21 971 12.6
88-89 72 2309 277 638 .434 160 195 .821 31 159 190 472 211-3 94 21 721 10.0
89-90 75 2036 206 475 .434 118 140 .843 48 153 201 485 179-2 81 14 531 7.1
TOTALS 541 18321 2617 5873 .446 1527 1817 .840 433 1324 1757 3486 1476-16 654 233 6805 12.6
Three-Point Field Goals: 1983-84, 4-for-32 (.125); 1984-85, 7-for-26 (.269); 1985-86, 6-for-42 (.143); 1986-87, 7-for-62 (.113); 1987-88, 12-for-46 (.261); 1988-89, 7-for-50 (.140); 1989-90, 1-for-24 (.042). Totals: 44 for 282 (.156).
Playoff Record
83-84 22 808 129 319 .404 104 120 .867 30 49 79 97 75-1 25 7 365 16.6
84-85 21 848 142 319 .445 80 93 .860 24 60 84 154 66-0 31 9 364 17.3
85-86 18 715 109 245 .445 67 84 .798 23 53 76 107 58-2 39 5 291 16.2
86-87 23 964 168 361 .465 96 113 .850 24 67 91 205 71-0 16 8 435 18.9
87-88 17 702 91 210 .433 82 103 .796 15 62 77 139 51-0 24 8 270 15.9
88-89 3 59 4 15 .267 0 0 .000 2 2 4 9 8-0 3 0 8 2.7
89-90 5 162 30 62 .484 7 7 1.000 2 12 14 28 17-1 2 2 69 13.8
TOTALS 109 4258 673 1531 .440 436 520 .838 120 305 425 739 346-4 140 39 1802 16.5
Three-Point Field Goals: 1983-84, 3-for-7 (.429); 1984-85, 0-for-14 (.000); 1985-86, 6-for-16 (.357); 1986-87, 3-for-26 (.115); 1987-88, 6-for-16 (.375); 1988-89, 0-for-0 (.000); 1989-90, 2-for-6 (.333). Totals: 20-for-85 (.235).