I just had to write a note about NBA great and Austin NBA D-League coach Dennis Johnson, who died last Thursday and whose memorial service was in Austin on Sunday. I wish I could have attended, but I was out of Texas and couldn’t make it.
I met DJ a couple of times over the past year. The first time was in Austin where I saw him in a parking lot and stopped to say hello. I was really surprised how nice he was. I think he even asked what I did for a living, and we talked for a few minutes.
Then when I was in Las Vegas last summer for the Vegas Summer League, I saw him in the stands and mentioned how I met him in Austin and how I worked on this Yao Ming web site. I swear, we ended up talking for 20-30 minutes in the stands while watching some of the action on the court. Here he was, an NBA legend who had more basketball experience in his pinkie finger than I had in my whole body, and he was interested in what I had to say about Yao Ming, and basketball in general. We talked about a lot of other topics beyond the NBA, like how he loved Austin, how he was planning on moving his family there, etc.
I always respected his game as a player when he was the Sonics and the Suns, but I always hurt that his Boston Celtics beat my Houston Rockets in 1986 in the NBA Finals. However, by his spending that much time with me, just a regular guy, proved to me that he was a class act and I became a big DJ fan after that.
Now when I read all the stories about how great of a person he was, I can believe it. He had ex-teammates like Bill Walton and Cedric Maxwell fly into Austin just for the memorial service. That goes to show how great of a man he must have been – that teammates 20 years ago flew halfway across the country to pay their respects. I wish I could have been one of them.