AUSTIN, Texas -- Dennis Johnson, the star NBA guard who was
part of three championships and teamed with Larry Bird on one of
the great postseason plays, died Thursday after collapsing at the
end of his developmental team's practice. He was 52.
Johnson, coach of the Austin Toros, was unconscious and in
cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived at Austin Convention Center,
said Warren Hassinger, spokesman for Austin-Travis County Emergency
Paramedics tried to resuscitate him for 23 minutes before he was
taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, Hassinger added. Mayra
Freeman, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, said
there will be an autopsy.
The Toros postponed home games Friday and Saturday nights, the
NBA Development League said.
"He was one of the most underrated players in the history of
the game, in my opinion, and one of the greatest Celtic
acquisitions of all time," said former Boston teammate Danny
Ainge, now the Celtics' executive director of basketball
"D.J. was a free spirit and a fun personality who loved to
laugh and play the game. We had spoken at length just the other
night about basketball and his excitement about coaching the Austin
Toros spokeswoman Perri Travillion said she was talking with
Johnson on the sidewalk outside the building when he collapsed.
Johnson was joking about getting a parking ticket.
"We were laughing," she said. "He just collapsed."
Travillion said she called 911 and that Johnson never regained
consciousness. She said Johnson did not appear to have overexerted
himself at practice and didn't complain of any discomfort before he
Johnson, a five-time All-Star and one of the top defensive
guards, was part of the last Boston dynasty. He spent 14 seasons in
the league and retired after the 1989-90 season. He played on title
teams with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986 and with the Seattle
SuperSonics in 1979, when he was the NBA finals MVP.
"Whether he was leading his teams to NBA championships or
teaching young men the meaning of professionalism, Dennis Johnson's
contributions to the game went far beyond the basketball court,"
NBA commissioner David Stern said. "Dennis was a man of
extraordinary character with a tremendous passion for the game."
Johnson was a favorite teammate of Bird's, and the two were part
of one of the most memorable plays in Celtics history.
During the fifth game of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals
against Detroit, Bird stole Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass under
Boston's basket and fed Johnson, who drove in for the winning
layup. Boston won the series in seven games but lost to the Los
Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.
"Dennis was a great player, one of the best teammates I ever
had, and a wonderful person," said Bird, now president of the
Indiana Pacers. "My thoughts and condolences are with his family
at this difficult time."
Bill Laimbeer, the center on that Pistons team, remembered
Johnson as a "great player on a great ballclub."
"He played with passion and grit," Laimbeer said. "It was fun
to play games like that. You always enjoyed it. It made for not
only great games, but great entertainment."
In the 1984 finals, Johnson guarded Magic Johnson effectively in
the last four games. In 1985, he hit a last-second jumper against
Los Angeles that won the fourth game. In 1986, he was part of a
team that featured four Hall of Famers -- Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert
Parish and Bill Walton.
"He was truly one of the good guys to play in the NBA, and he
was a great teammate who was fun to be around," McHale said.
Johnson had a reputation for delivering in big games.
"I hate to lose," he once said. "I accept it when it comes,
but I still hate it. That's the way I am."
He averaged 14.1 points and 5.0 assists for his career. When he
retired, he was the 11th player in NBA history to total 15,000
points and 5,000 assists. Johnson made one all-NBA first team and
one second team. Six times he made the all-defensive first team,
including five consecutive seasons (1979-83).
"As far as a person, he was a great competitor," Sonics
teammate Jack Sikma said. "He wouldn't let things pass. He would
cause some friction if he felt strongly about something, but with
our team that was a good thing."
Johnson was born Sept. 18, 1954, in Compton, Calif. He played at
Pepperdine and was drafted by Seattle in 1976. Johnson was traded
to Phoenix in 1980 and Boston in 1983.
He is survived by his wife, Donna, sons Dwayne and Daniel, and a