Living the Fantasy: One Sad Week
By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
February 24, 2007
By now you've heard about Dennis Johnson's tragic passing on Thursday at the age of 52. Dennis is survived by his wife, Donna, and children, Dwayne, Denise, and Daniel, and my deepest sympathies go out to his family.
I had the rare pleasure of interviewing and conversing with DJ last month at the MLK D-League Showcase in Sioux Falls, at which point he engaged me under excruciatingly adverse conditions.
Earlier that day, in a game between his Austin Toros and Jim Harrick's Bakersfield Jam, DJ's Toros blew a nine-point lead with 59.2 seconds left. Thanks in large part to Gerry McNamara's heroics, Bakersfield tied the game at the end of regulation and won in overtime, giving the Jam a victory in the battle between the D-League's worst teams.
Roughly four hours later, I was surprised to hear from NBA TV producer James Questel that I was going to be interviewing Dennis Johnson at halftime of the Skyforce game.
Seriously, freaks, given DJ's trademark competitiveness and the heartbreaking nature of the loss, I just thought he would take the rest of the night off to moan and mourn. But DJ came on, we talked about the bitter defeat, how his team was starting to turn the corner (which they were), the D-League, the Celtics, and other topics orange in a strong five or six minutes of TV.
Growing up as a teenager in the 80s, I was old enough to understand and appreciate how great the players of that era were, and Dennis Johnson was the definition of a gamer. I have a soft spot in my basketball heart for warriors and clutch players, and DJ was both, which earned my respect despite the fact I was a hardcore Lakers fan at the time. (In Magic We Trust.)
With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, DJ was literally the most dangerous player on the floor.
With Bird, McHale, and Parrish always gobbling the headlines and attention, DJ was able to sneak up on everyone and steal the show. And a lot of times he stole the show with a 15-footer with 3.8 to go. DJ was so clutch and so tough and so smart that Bird called him "the greatest I've ever played with".
When you look at DJ's basketball resume, you see three chips, 1979 Finals MVP, five all-star appearances, and nine straight seasons on the all-defensive first or second team. You also see over 15,000 points and 5,000 assists, and almost 1,500 steals. However, and sadly, you don't see the words "Hall of Fame" on his resume. It's time to wake up those who are sleeping.
DJ is a Hall of Famer and he was, by all accounts, a great man.
My rottweiler Jameson was a great dog, but he died three days before DJ due to lymphoma.
Jamo, as we dubbed him, was named half-and-half for the Irish Whiskey and the drummer for the Allman Brothers, and he was the greatest rottweiler ever. He would have given his life for any of us without hesitation, yet he was a docile pushover around all children and most strangers. The only thing you had to fear with Jamo was getting too close, at which point he may never leave you alone.
Jameson was the perfect dog, who—like DJ—died too young. Jamo fell just short of nine years.
That's more than enough sadness for one week, but I'm only two-thirds of the way there.
On Wednesday night, after a wonderful dinner with my wife Kolby, I settled in for the Heat-Rockets game to clock my top player Dwyane Wade. Coming out of the All-Star break with the four-headed monster of Wade, Garnett, Bosh, and Johnson, I loved my chances in League Freak.
Wade had a bogus first half against Houston but turned the frown upside down with a double-digit third quarter, proving once again how tough-minded he is. Then, early in the fourth quarter, on a drive by Shane Battier, Wade dug down with his left hand, and the upward force of Battier's move combined with the downward thrust of Wade's steal attempt combined to basically rip Wade’s arm out of the socket, severely dislocating his shoulder.
By now you've heard that Wade is out at least six weeks, ostensibly ending his relevance in the fantasy world. Wade is currently mulling over rest-and-rehab versus surgery, with the former costing him around six weeks and the latter sidelining the reigning Finals MVP for 4-6 months.
My bid for a first League Freak chip, despite assembling the best team in the league, is all but over. I'm sad about that. I'm sad for Pat Riley, Shaquille O'Neal, and Jason Williams, who fought so hard to come back from injury just to watch Wade go down in the first game of the season with all four of them ready for duty. I'm sad for the Heat Nation and all of Wade's fantasy owners, who just went from title contenders to pretenders.
The late, great Hunter S. Thompson used to write about fear and loathing.
Borrowing his meter, I come to you this week sad and mourning.
But I refuse to leave you, my beloved freaks, on a sad note. And thanks to my mother's strength, I don't have to. On Friday, my 62-year-old mom had surgery to remove debris from the main artery in her neck. She came out of the procedure in great shape and is expected to make a full recovery.
I talked to her Friday night, and she was as sharp and opinionated as ever.
It was one sad week…but not the saddest.