Dennis Johnson died today at the age of 52.
He was coaching his NBDL Austin Toros when he collapsed on the court during practice. No additional information is available at this time.
As you probably know, DJ was the last coach of the Clippers prior to the hiring of MDsr. He took over for Alvin Gentry on an interim basis March 1, 2003. He was 8-16 in his brief NBA head coaching career.
My basketball consciousness is closely linked with Dennis Johnson. For one thing, we both went to Pepperdine. DJ only played one season for the Waves, after two seasons at a JC and a red shirt year. It was before I was in college, but my dad was a professor, so I actually grew up watching Pepperdine hoops, and that was the first team I remember really well. What a season it was. I was 13, and the Waves won a first round game against Memphis State (as they were known at the time) in Tucson to advance to the Sweet 16 (back then, it was a 32 team tournament). I listened to that game on the radio in our living room and I could barely hear what was going on, the reception was so bad. In the Sweet 16 they faced UCLA at Pauley - again, the tournament was different back then. There's no home court games these days, but back then it was brutal. And this was 1976 - the Bruins didn't actually win every NCAA title, but they were pretty much still expected to. That team had Roy Hamilton and David Greenwood and Brad Holland. The Waves lost 70-61.
DJ was a surprise second round pick of the Seattle Sonics in 1976 - surprise because he still had one more eligibility left (the Sonics took advantage of the rule that a player was eligible for the draft 4 years after his high school graduation, the same rule the Celtics used to draft Larry Bird 2 years later). He won a ring his second year in Seattle, had some All Star seasons in Phoenix, and then was traded to Boston. (For Rick Robey, in one of the most one-sided trades of all time.)
Here's where our paths crossed again. I was of course a big Lakers fan in the 80s, and DJ became a mainstay of the dreaded Celtics. I still loved the guy. The thing I remember more than anything about those Celtics teams was just how damn SMART they were. Bird, Johnson, McHale, Parrish, Ainge... they never beat themselves. They never made a single mental error. Dennis Johnson is the last guy I remember who would use the bank pass consistently. If Bird had inside position on someone, especially if the defender had lost sight of the ball for a second, DJ would just throw it up off the glass, and Bird would grab it for a layup. Smart. Of course today I guess that's an alley-oop dunk. But that's not how DJ and Bird beat you.
He is not a member of the basketball Hall of Fame. But his number 3 was retired by the Boston Celtics, which, if you think about it, is almost better.
Dennis Johnson really wanted to be a head coach in the NBA again. Ostensibly he was a candidate for the full time Clippers job in 2003, and I thought he had a chance if DTS wanted someone on the cheap. Instead the Clippers went with MDsr and DJ started paying dues as an NBA scout, assistant and in the NBDL.
RIP, Dennis Johnson.