Ron Matthews, SUPERSONICS.COM
| February 22, 2007
Seattle SuperSonics Legend Dennis Johnson, who led the franchise to its only NBA Championship, died Thursday in Austin, Texas. He was 52.
Johnson collapsed while coaching the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League through their morning practice. He was unconscious and in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived at Austin Convention Center, said Warren Hassinger, spokesman for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.
Paramedics tried to resuscitate him for 23 minutes before he was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, Hassinger added. Mayra Freeman, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, said there will be an autopsy.
Johnson was a member of the Sonics 40th Anniversary Team.
The Toros postponed home games Friday and Saturday nights, the NBA Development League said.
News of Johnson’s death shook the NBA family, from coast to coast. He was an integral part of three NBA Championship teams and was the NBA Finals MVP in 1979 – the year he led the Sonics to the title while averaging 22.6 points per game.
“Total shock,” said Sonics Vice Chairman Lenny Wilkens, who coached Johnson during his four seasons as the team’s starting shooting guard. “It lets you know a little bit about immortality, but also that nothing is ever promised. You have to live your life.
“Dennis, he was a great player for the Sonics. He helped us win a championship, he was the MVP. He was a tremendous young man.”
Johnson also played in Phoenix and Boston during a 14-year career that produced many league-wide honors. He was an All-NBA First Team choice in 1981 and a Second-Team selection in 1982; he was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team six times (1979-83 and 1987) and the Second Team three times (1984-86); he played in five All-Star Games (1979-82, 1985) and six NBA Finals.
Johnson was back in Seattle last fall as part of the Sonics 40th Anniversary Legends Tour. He was paired alongside Gus Williams in a ribbon-cutting ceremony as the Sonics honored the backcourt greats by dedicating a refurbished outdoor basketball court at Powell Barnett Park in their honor.
The Sonics plan to honor Johnson on Monday, Feb. 26 when they return to KeyArena to play the Portland Trail Blazers.
That is the night the Sonics are retiring No. 24 in honor of Spencer Haywood, the city’s first sports superstar. Johnson, too, wore the number during his time with the Sonics.
"He did a yeoman's job in Seattle and it was hardly noticed, but when it came down to it he was the MVP of the Finals," said Haywood. "That was befitting of his style. He was just always a quiet kind of player but got a lot of work done. His game was so smooth. He was just as smooth off the floor."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)