- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Former Boston Celtics guard Dennis Johnson, who played with the original Big Three and helped Boston win two NBA titles (1984 and '86) and Seattle win one (1979), has been elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame, according to a a source.
The official announcement is expected Monday morning.
Johnson, who died of a heart attack in February 2007 at the age of 52, played 14 seasons in the NBA, the final seven with Boston.
He was considered a defensive specialist and one of the top guards of his era. Johnson was one of 19 nominees announced in February and many believed his inclusion in the Hall was long overdue.
"It really doesn't come as a surprise to me," said former Celtics general manager Jan Volk. "The surprise is that it took so long. Anyone who ever played with or against Dennis Johnson knew that no one competed harder. And the bigger the game, the better he played."
Johnson, known as DJ, was taken by Seattle in the second round of the 1976 NBA Draft, starting a remarkable career that spanned three teams (the Sonics, Suns and Celtics) and included the following: first-team All-NBA (1981), second-team All-NBA (1980) and from 1979 to 1987, either first-team or second-team All-Defense. He was a five-time All Star and was named the 1979 NBA Finals MVP.
Johnson was a self-made man in the basketball sense. He was one of 16 children raised in a tough neighborhood in Compton, Calif. He didn't make the varsity at Dominguez High until he was a senior and he sat on the bench most of the time. (He called himself "a bencher.") College was out of the question and he figured at the time that he had as much a chance of playing in the NBA as he did of becoming a brain surgeon.
Johnson drove a forklift in a tape warehouse. He worked in a liquor store as a stock boy and cashier. But he played competitively in local leagues and caught the eye of a community college coach, who was intrigued. Jim White of Harbor Community College is the man who put Johnson on the path to a career in basketball, plucking him off the streets of San Pedro and offering him a spot on his team. The rest, as they say, is history.
Larry Bird said Johnson was the best teammate he ever had. Who knows if Bird was serious, or if he understood the need to stroke DJ. But there was no denying Johnson coming up big when the games meant the most. He never feared taking the last shot. And, lest we forget, it was DJ who made the move to accept the pass from Bird off that famous steal in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. DJ was at half court when Bird made his move to steal the lazy inbounds pass. Then, he made a reverse layup with Joe Dumars threatening him.
Johnson, who played four years with Seattle and three with the Phoenix Suns, had his No. 3 retired by the Celtics in 1991.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
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