Celtic Legends Share DJ Memories
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BOSTON - The shock of his passing has worn off, but the memories of Dennis Johnson's legacy are still fresh in the minds of those who knew him best.
Johnson's former coach K.C. Jones and teammates Robert Parish and M.L. Carr met with the media at halftime of Wednesday's Celtics-Knicks game to share some of their memories of DJ, and reflect on Johnson's impact on the Celtics and the NBA.
Jones, who was a part of 12 NBA Championships both as a player and as a coach, knows a little something about greatness and leadership. He recalled how he and Johnson had a heated argument after he'd pulled him from a game about two weeks into their first season together.
"The next morning he was the first one at practice. I went over and apologized and he said I apologize to you," Jones said. "After that, he was a guy who lead the team."
Jones called Johnson an "awesome person off the court", but noted that his intelligence on the court was rare, citing the famous play at the end of Game 5 in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals where Bird stole Isiah Thomas' inbound pass and found a streaking DJ for the improbable game-winning layup.
"Remember, that play that Larry made against Detroit in the playoffs, and Dennis knew to move toward him," Jones said. "He went right past the defender and got the ball open. He was one of those genius minds on the court."
Johnson stepped up in that game when his team needed him most. With Parish succumbing to an ankle sprain and McHale dealing with foul trouble, Johnson made several key plays down the stretch of that game to keep the Celtics close. Johnson was known for his play in the clutch, something that Parish recalled vividly.
"He got the big rebound, he got the big steal, he got the big defensive stop," Parish said. "Whatever we needed, DJ always found a way to get it done."
And despite coming to Boston with a reputation as being a difficult teammate, Johnson's ability to scale back his own game and manage his teammates helped him evolve into a leader on a squad stacked with talent, not to mention some very strong egos and personalities.
"He's got Danny, he's got Kevin, he's got myself, and he was able to keep everybody happy," Parish said. "I think that's tough, and like I said that says a lot about a person, because like I said, he could have been just like us, moaning and groaning about his minutes and his plays and his plays not being called."
Meanwhile, Carr remembered Johnson as a guy who faced challenges head on. Johnson was acquired from the Suns in large part because the Celtics needed a player who could subjugate the Sixers' Andrew Toney, and Johnson scaled back his role in the offense to focus on becoming a lock-down defender.
"He was coming here to get us past Philadelphia, to get us to that next stop," Carr said. "He took the challenges and I think that's indicative of things he was doing down in Texas. It was a challenge. DJ wanted to be a head coach in this league and he was doing everything he could to get there."
Johnson didn't get a chance to see his goal through, or to be named to the Hall of Fame despite winning three NBA Championships and having statistics and credentials similar to others currently enshrined. But he certainly left a lasting impression upon those around him.
Wally Set for Surgery
The bad news is that Wally Szczerbiak's season has ended early for the second straight year. The good news is, he won't be able to sprain his angle again this season.
The Celtics announced that Szczerbiak will undergo season-ending surgery on his left ankle after a series of sprains left him hobbled and frustrated. Wearing street clothes to the TD Banknorth Garden, Szczerbiak arrived shortly before tip-off and addressed the media after the Celtics win over the New York Knicks.
In addition to an evaluation from team physician Brian McKeon, who will perform the surgery next Thursday at New England Baptist Hospital, Szczerbiak sought out opinions on his ankle from doctors on both coasts and it was determined that it was time to shut down his season and go under the knife.
"I saw the best foot and ankle specialist in L.A. and the best foot and ankle specialist in the hospital for special surgery in New York, and the same guy that Al saw for this for a second opinion," Szczerbiak said. "Three opinions all confirmed the same thing."
According to Szczerbiak, the surgery will re-attach the ligaments and tighten the tendons in his ankle, and he expects to be 100% for training camp.
"Surgery is always surgery, but I've been through it before so I know what to expect," said Szczerbiak. "I feel like I'm in really good hands. I feel like this in the time to do it."