Former teammates say goodbye to Dennis Johnson
GARDENA, Calif. -- Four months after the death of team patriarch Red Auerbach, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge reunited in grief Friday to say goodbye to former Boston Celtics teammate Dennis Johnson.
The trio of Celtics stars joined about 1,000 mourners who shared tears and laughter during Johnson's 1-hour funeral.
"D.J. was a huge part of championship teams and was a guy that everybody liked," McHale said. "He was a fun guy, and he had a personality that fit with us because we had a bunch of guys who enjoyed each other."
Johnson, who was coaching the Austin Toros of the NBA's Development League, died of an apparent heart attack after practice last month. He was 52.
"He was a great basketball player, a guy that was dedicated to the game, and he showed that by staying in it and going to the minor leagues to coach and try to move his way up," Bird said.
"It's unfortunate because he had a lot of life left in him, but it's just something that happened that we have no control over. He left a great legacy behind."
Several Toros players served as pallbearers for Johnson, a Compton native who was later buried in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Among the mourners at City of Refuge church were former NBA stars Michael Cooper and Norm Nixon, Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy and Phoenix Suns assistant Alvin Gentry, whom Johnson replaced as Clippers coach for the final 24 games of the 2002-03 season.
Johnson was traded to the Celtics in 1983 and helped them win NBA titles in 1984 and '86. He also helped Seattle to its only league championship.
"I was the one who benefited the most from D.J. coming to our team," Ainge said. "I slept a lot better at night, knowing I wouldn't have to be guarding Andrew Toney, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan."
Johnson spent four seasons as a Celtics assistant.
McHale and Bird went into the front-office ranks after their playing days.
McHale fondly recalled the trio "laughing about the fact that we [complain] about the things our players do that we used to do and how we expect them to be perfect -- when we were never anywhere near perfect."
Johnson, a second-round pick out of Pepperdine, spent his first four seasons in the NBA with the SuperSonics. In 1978-79, the Sonics went 52-30 and won it all -- with Johnson being named MVP of the finals.
Johnson retired in 1990 and the Celtics, who have captured a record 16 NBA titles, haven't won one since.
"What made him such a great defensive player was his ability to go laterally," Bird said. "He had some quickness that people didn't realize, and he was deceiving."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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DENNIS JOHNSON: 1954-2007
Name: Dennis Wayne Johnson
Born: Sept. 18, 1954, in Compton, Calif.
College: Pepperdine University
Drafted: Seattle SuperSonics, 1976 (29th overall)
NBA teams: Seattle (1976-80), Phoenix (1980-83), Boston (1983-90)
Career highlights: Won NBA titles with Seattle (1979) and Boston (1984, '86) ... Voted NBA Finals MVP in 1979 ... All-NBA First Team (1981) ... All-NBA Second Team (1980) ... All-Defensive First Team (1979-83, '87) ... All-Defensive Second Team (1984-86) ... Five-time NBA All-Star (1979-82, '85)
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