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Dennis Johnson was a part of several successful Boston Celtics teams between 1983 and 1990. When you mention the best players in the Celtics organization, Johnson’s name needs to be in the conversation.

The three-time NBA Champion continued to be involved in basketball well after he retired in 1991. When he died in 2007, it was a blow to the NBA community and the Celtics organization.

Dennis Johnson’s dynamic NBA career

Referee Earl Strom follows Dennis Johnson of the Boston Celtics up the floor during a 1984 basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers
Dennis Johnson of the Boston Celtics during a 1984 NBA game | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Before Johnson became one of the all-time Celtics greats, he played for two other NBA teams. The Seattle SuperSonics chose “DJ” in the second round of the 1976 NBA Draft. Johnson spent his first four years in Seattle, improving each year as he played the point and shooting guard positions.

The 1978-79 season was a breakout year for Johnson as he averaged 15.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. The SuperSonics player joined his first All-Star team and was named to the All-Defensive First Team. That season, the team won the 1979 NBA Finals. Johnson became the Finals MVP as he averaged 22.6 points, six rebounds, and six assists in five games.

Johnson had a lot of success during his time in Seattle. This continued when he joined the Phoenix Suns for the 1980-81 season. In his first season with the Suns, he averaged 18.8 points and was named to his third straight All-Star team. It became clear to fans that Johnson was becoming a top NBA player.

The Suns were successful in Johnson’s first two seasons, reaching the Western Conference Semifinals. Johnson quickly became the main scoring option when he played in Phoenix. He earned a spot on the All-NBA First Team for the first and only time in his career as a member of the Suns.

Dennis Johnson joined the Boston Celtics in 1983

In 1983, Johnson joined a Celtics team that boasted Hall of Fame forwards Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and Hall of Fame center Robert Parish. DJ was the right fit for the team, regarded as one of the best in the league for several seasons.

When Johnson joined the Celtics, his role changed. Instead of a high-scoring shooting guard, he became a playmaking point guard, averaging 13.2 points per game his first season. It was not hard for Johnson to accept the role as he played alongside some of the NBA greats.

The Celtics took on the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals — one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history. The Celtics defeated the Lakers 4-3. Johnson did his part defending Lakers great Magic Johnson.

DJ won his third championship and second with the Celtics in 1986 as they defeated the Houston Rockets. Dennis finished his career in Boston, averaging 14.1 points, five assists, and 3.9 rebounds. The Celtics retired his No. 3 jersey, and he entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Dennis Johnson’s death saddened the NBA world

After his playing career, Dennis Johnson remained with the Celtics organization, working as a scout for the team. In 1993, he became the Celtics’ assistant head coach until 1997. Dennis served as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2000 and interim head coach for 24 games toward the end of the 2002-03 season.

Dennis also coached in the CBA and held numerous head coaching positions in the NBA Development League. In 2007, while serving as the head coach of the Austin Toros, he had a heart attack and collapsed at the end of practice, as ESPN reports. Dennis was rushed to the hospital but could not be revived.

One minute he was running a practice, and the next, he was gone. DJ’s death surprised fans and followers. But Dennis Johnson’s will continue on.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference


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