Johnson expected to recover, season jeopardized

Updated: September 13, 2002, 7:03 PM ET
Associated Press

DerMarr Johnson

ATLANTA --Atlanta Hawks forward DerMarr Johnson broke his neck in a car crash early Friday, an injury that is not life-threatening but could cause him to miss the season.

"A fraction of an inch one way or the other, and the doctor said it would have been very bad,'' Hawks general manager Pete Babcock said.

Johnson was in the intensive care unit at Atlanta Medical Center, Hawks spokesman Arthur Triche said. Team doctors recommended the 22-year-old player have surgery at Shepherd Spinal Center, but the decision will be made by Johnson's mother, who was traveling to Atlanta from Washington. The other option is to have the surgery at Atlanta Medical Center.

Triche said Johnson could be released as early as Monday.

"In the long term, his prognosis is excellent,'' Triche said. "His playing status for the upcoming season is in question.''

If Johnson misses the season, the Hawks can apply for a roster exemption from the NBA, said league spokesman Mike Broeker. If it's granted, the team could sign a player for up to 50 percent of Johnson's salary.

Several of Johnson's teammates visited him in the hospital, as did Babcock, Triche said.

"We only got to see him for about a minute, while they were transferring him to ICU,'' Triche said. "We didn't put pressure on him to talk, but his teammates had some words of encouragement for him.''

Triche said coach Lon Kruger had also been at the hospital most of the day.

Johnson, 22, and two other men were in Johnson's car when it crossed the center line, hit a tree and caught fire. It was not known who was driving, and no other cars were involved, police said.

Another man had serious internal injuries, and the third man sustained only minor injuries, Fulton County police Maj. Wenda Phifer said.

Johnson took part in voluntary workouts with his teammates Thursday at Philips Arena.

Johnson, a first-round draft pick in 2000 after only one year at Cincinnati, averaged 8.4 points in 72 games last season -- his second with the Hawks.

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press