Suns News

Frank Johnson Wasn’t In Suns’ Plans

"Fourth Quarter Frank" Johnson might never have become the Suns' head coach if not for an injury to Kevin Johnson.
(NBAE Photos)
By Mike Tulumello, Tribune
East Valley Tribune
May 25, 2003

Frank Johnson wasn’t expected to play for the Suns in the nearly magical season of 1992-93.

In fact, just before the season started, coach Paul Westphal took the veteran guard aside and gave him the bad news. As Johnson recalls, Westphal told him, "Frank, you did everything we asked. You deserve to be here, but..."

There simply was no room on the roster.

Johnson had been brought in as an insurance policy for Kevin Johnson, the All-Star point guard who — at least at this point in his career — wasn’t particularly injury prone.

So when KJ was ready to go after the exhibition season, the Suns released Frank Johnson. But within hours of returning to his home in Minnesota, he got a call from Suns vice president Dick Van Arsdale.

Seems that during a team practice, Suns center Oliver Miller tumbled to the floor, and KJ tried to pick him up with one hand.

As Johnson suggests, KJ was strong, but even Hercules would have had trouble picking up the rotund Miller with one hand. So KJ suffered a groin injury and was out for a while, and Frank Johnson was on board for the season, as it turned out.

Johnson edged out Negele Knight as the team’s fourth guard. He sometimes entered games early in the fourth quarter, often when the game was on the line.


For more coverage of Phoenix sports,
be sure to visit eastvalleytribune.com
He performed so well that he earned the nickname "Fourth Quarter Frank." The label was never more deserved than in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, when the Suns were locked in a tight battle in Seattle.

As Johnson was en route to 11 points, including some key late baskets in a narrow Suns’ win, media people from the Northwest were scrambling to find Suns media guides to look up the background of Johnson.

Off the floor, Johnson took it upon himself to be an occasional chaperone for hardpartying superstar Charles Barkley.

All in all, Johnson said of his times accompanying Barkley, "I tried to be a voice of reason.

"But do you think I could stop him from doing what he wanted to do?

"No."

Johnson played one more season for the Suns, then went to work in the team’s community relations office. He became known for his appeals to kids to stay in school, ending up as the NBA’s national spokesman in this regard.

Then he hooked on as an assistant coach under Danny Ainge, survived the transition to Scott Skiles and — when Skiles departed in early 2002 — became the head coach.

If KJ hadn’t injured himself, none of it would have happened.

COPYRIGHT 2003, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.