On March 4th, El Mundo and the Boston Celtics are proud to present the FIRST EVER “Noche Latina” at the TD Garden. For one night only, El Mundo will transform the fan experience at the TD Garden and celebrate the best of what Latino culture has to offer while fans cheer for the team in green. To purchase tickets CLICK HERE
Dennis Johnson is ceremoniously known in the basketball universe by just two letters: DJ. He spent only seven seasons with Boston, but boy, were those seven seasons memorable.
Johnson was acquired from the Phoenix Suns on June 27, 1983 in exchange for Rick Robey and two second-round draft choices. The move, orchestrated by Red Auerbach, turned out to be yet another genius decision by the longtime Celtics executive.
Seven successful seasons were already under Johnson’s belt at that point. He played shooting guard for nearly all of those seven seasons and was known as a strong scorer and tenacious defender. He put up at least 18.8 PPG in three consecutive seasons from 1979-82 and also made five consecutive NBA All-Defensive First Teams.
Despite all of the scoring, Auerbach saw a different pair of intangibles within Johnson: point guard skills and leadership. He hit the nail on the head on both of those traits.
Johnson turned himself into a point guard upon his arrival in Boston and experienced immediate success. Paired with the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the Celtics won a title in Johnson’s first season with the team. This was Johnson’s second NBA title, as he had already won a ring with the Seattle SuperSonics back in 1979.
Johnson had never averaged more than 5.0 APG in his seven seasons prior to joining Boston. As he quickly adapted to a new style of play, he averaged at least 5.8 APG in six of his seven seasons with the C’s, including an career-high 7.8 APG during the 1978-79 season.
His point guard skills and defense were incredibly important to the Celtics, particularly because Magic Johnson was a man the team would need to go through in order to win championships. DJ played lockdown defense on Magic during the 1984 Finals, leading to Magic calling DJ “the best backcourt defender of all-time” upon his retirement in 1991.
Johnson’s defense against Magic wasn’t needed for his second championship with the Celtics. Instead, Boston took down the Houston Rockets’ Twin Towers of Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1986.
Johnson retired following the 1989-90 season after the Celtics chose not to extend a contract offer to him. Johnson received another high level of praise after his retirement, this time from Bird. Larry Legend called Johnson the best teammate he ever had in his autobiography. Coming from a guy like Bird, who had played with several Hall of Famers, that was quite a statement.
The Hall of Fame didn’t come calling Johnson’s number until 2010, but the Celtics retired his jersey almost immediately in the winter of 1991. Johnson’s No. 3 was raised to the rafters on Dec. 13, 1991 as many of his former teammates looked on in celebration.
Like many Celtics players before him, Johnson moved on from his playing days and filled his basketball void by becoming an executive. He began his post-playing days as a scout for the Celtics but quickly moved into the coaching ranks. He spent several seasons as an assistant coach before finally getting a head coaching gig – albeit an interim one – with the Los Angeles Clippers after the team had fired Alvin Gentry. However, the Clippers went just 8-16 in Johnson’s 24 games and he was not retained as head coach.
Johnson persevered through those struggles and continued to coach. He was named the head coach of the NBA Development League’s Florida Flame in 2004 and later held the same position with the Austin Toros.
The story of Johnson’s life did not end on a positive note. He was tragically taken from the world on Feb. 22, 2007 after suffering a sudden heart attack. He was head coach of the Toros at that point and just 52 years old.
Although Johnson is no longer here, his legacy will live on forever. Celtics players and fans alike will see his number hanging in the rafters for the remainder of time, and his name also sits proudly in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He’ll be considered a Celtic at every glance he gets at those two locations.