Dennis Johnson, RIP:

Dennis "DJ" Johnson, a star player on the Boston Celtics teams that I grew up rooting for in the 1980s died suddenly today at the tragically early age of 52.

Johnson was one of the most widely admired and respected NBA players of his generation, a star on three championship teams (two with the Celtics), and the MVP of the 1979 NBA finals. He was also, for a long time, a resident of Lexington, Massachusetts, the town where I grew up.

Condolences to Johnson's family, friends, and former teammates.

UPDATE: Here is an obituary by ESPN columnist and longtime Celtics fan Bill Simmons that summarizes DJ's many achievements and puts his career in perspective.

Waldensian (mail):
What a fierce competitor. One of the giants of the NBA's great days.
2.22.2007 9:35pm
frankcross (mail):
One of my favorites. Especially from the Sonics days. A rare guy who could dominate a game with his defense
2.22.2007 9:37pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Great, great defender, and underrated as a point guard too, I think. He ran offenses extremely well wherever he was, and was content distributing the ball and taking the tough defensive assignments (ala Jordan, Thomas, Magic, etc...).
2.22.2007 10:11pm
glangston (mail):
As we're fond of sayng for some reason today, "a class guy". A tough player and a winner. Boston was lucky to get him.
2.22.2007 10:34pm
What a contrast between players like DJ and the clowns of today with their gansta possees.
2.22.2007 11:07pm
Great player. Those Celtics teams were classy, and I speak as a hater.
2.23.2007 12:19am
Visitor Again:
Long before the Celtics got Dennis Johnson, we Celtics fans just knew he belonged with the Celtics. Back in those days it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would end up there. He was one of those great character players--effort, discipline, will to win and intelligence--who seemed to wind up in Boston and who often made the difference in the playoffs. Of course he was much more than a player with a lot of character. He had talent to spare, too. He was my favorite player on that great team of the Eighties. I live in L.A., and I loved it when the Celts took it to the Lakers, particularly when they did it with Johnson, who was from L.A. He was (and is) deserving of Hall of Fame recognition, and it's a pity it didn't come while he was alive.
2.23.2007 10:49am
18 USC 1030 (mail):
As someone who is too young to have watched these games when they were played yet watched far too many games on ESPN Classic, I must say this is a sad day. DJ was a hell of a player and was a leader on the court, no one had anything bad to say about him--teamate or oponent, read the comments Magic Johnson wrote about DJ in his autobiography. It's yet another sad day in the saddest of years for the Celtics. The season is shot, DJ is dead, and of course, though I still cannot believe it's true: Red is dead. Could this year get any worse?

One would think that the NBA equivelant to the Yankees would be in a far better position than they are in now....They have yet to get out of the toilet since the death of Len Bias........
2.23.2007 10:51am
18 USC 1030 (mail):
I'll rephrase that: I was old enough to have WATCHED them when they were play; but far too young to have remembered....A damn shame, I tell ya.
2.23.2007 10:53am
JosephSlater (mail):
I'm with Steve. As a long-time Pistons fan, I remember the wars the "Bad Boys" Detroit teams had with the DJ-era Celtics. But even though DJ was the enemy to me at the time, I always appreciated his game. RIP.
2.23.2007 11:03am
A Guest:
I grew up a Celtics fan in New England, graduated high school the day Len Bias died. They definitely have not been the same since. On any other team but the early-mid-80's Celts, DJ would have been a mega-star...
2.23.2007 11:14pm
Just Some Guy:
Oh, man. Dennis Johnson is my favorite NBA player of all time. He was a great guy-- always better than people thought, even though he won the championship MVP award and is probably now a guilty shoe-in for the hall of fame.

I lived in Phoenix when DJ was part of the Sonics championship in 1979. My Phoenix Suns always suffered when they faced DJ, and when we traded to bring him to Phoenix, the Sonics fell apart, and DJ took the Suns through several winning years. When he moved to Boston, Phoenix collapsed completely, and the Celtics (who already had the famous inside line-up of Bird, Parish, and McHale) won two championships. DJ made it possible in Seattle, Phoenix, and Boston. He never got credit for what was most obvious: when he was on the team, the team won. When he left, the team lost.

You could see what he did on court if you looked closely, and if you knew basketball. But he wasn't glitzy, and he was better on defense than offense. On defense, he could shut the best players in the league down. He made the game a bit boring, especially if he was playing against your team, because he forced players to earn every point on offense.

I watched most of DJ's career, and he was known for a smooth and fair temper. I never met him, but his behavior suggests he was a good man whom NBA players-- today, especially-- could look to as a guide for how to conduct oneself.

I'm really sad about this. DJ, you were a good man and a great NBA star, and you're gonna be in the hall of fame. Go in peace.
2.25.2007 5:20pm