Former players, coaches remember Johnson at service

Updated: February 25, 2007, 9:03 PM ET
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas -- Former NBA players remembered Dennis Johnson for his athletic ability and his infectious smile Sunday during a memorial service where there was far more laughter than tears.

"In my lifetime I have never met such a dynamic person," former Boston Celtics teammate Cedric Maxwell told the crowd of nearly 200 people gathered in the David Chapel Baptist Church. "He was one of the greatest players of all time."

Johnson, who was part of three NBA championship teams with Boston and Seattle, died Thursday after collapsing following practice with the Austin Toros, the NBA Development League team he coached. He was 52.

"I am going to say a few things about Dennis Johnson, like how nosy he was," Maxwell said. "We would go to each NBA city and call a Realtor up and go see the most expensive homes, knowing we weren't buying anything.

"He's looking at me right now saying, 'I am so glad that you went up to speak Max, instead of Bill Walton, because we would have been here all day long."'

Walton and Robert Reed were among those in the crowd along with Celtics coach Doc Rivers and Texas Longhorns coach Rick Barnes.

A framed No. 3 Toros jersey and an enlarged picture of Johnson displaying his well-known smile were surrounded by flowers near the altar. His wife of 31 years, Donna, and his three children, Dwayne, Denise and Daniel, sat on one of the front rows with Toros players and assistant coach Dale Osbourne nearby.

A five-time All-Star and one of the most feared defensive guards in NBA history, Johnson was part of the last Boston dynasty. He spent 14 seasons in the league and retired after the 1989-90 season at the age of 35. He played on title teams with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986 and with the SuperSonics in 1979, when he was the finals MVP.

"If DJ was around the 50 greatest NBA players, you could put him right in the middle and say, 'There he is,"' Reed said. "Those 50 players knew they wouldn't get it done if it weren't for DJ."

Johnson 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).

Osbourne recalled a story when he blew out his back three weeks after he moved to Austin to become Johnson's assistant coach.

"I didn't like to tell this story because it was embarrassing," Osbourne said, "until I found out DJ told everyone."

Osbourne said he was yelling in pain a few feet from the door, but couldn't reach it because of the pain.

He called Johnson, who coached him to the door.

Johnson said he wouldn't tell anyone.

"A few days later when I was able to go to practice, I heard a scream as I entered the gym. Coach was lying on the floor, telling it to all the guys," Osbourne said.

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.

Toros president Mike Berry ended his speech with a personal message to DJ:

"I have a little guy and he is three years old. There is a special place that I want to take him one day, that's in Springfield, Mass., where you belong coach.

"Make no mistake, we will not make that trip without your arrival there first."

Springfield is home of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Johnson will be buried Friday in Gardenia, Calif.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press