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Johnson expected to recover, season jeopardized

9/13/2002

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.