That's what Dennis Johnson represented to the 1983-84 Celtics: something new and different than they had the year before.
Without Dennis Johnson, there would have been no championship. But think back to 1981. Without Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, where would the Celtics have been? Think about 1976, when the Celtics, faced with the loss of Don Chaney, acquired Charlie Scott as a backcourt mate for Jo Jo White. The 1974 championship could not have materialized without Paul Silas, who had been a key pickup the year before. In that case, it took an extra season to win the big prize because John Havlicek was injured in the Knicks' playoff series.
Dennis Johnson represents the type of bold thinking that has always made Red Auerbach the NBA's master thinker. When Red makes a deal, it's usually something significant. Obtaining DJ from the Suns just prior to the 1983 draft was a signal that the Celtics were looking at the 1983-84 season in a very serious vein.
Get this straight, folks. Dennis Johnson is a very controversial character in the NBA. Not too long after helping the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1979 championship (he was the final series MVP), he was being labeled a "cancer" by coach Lenny Wilkens. He was traded to Phoenix following the 1979-80 season, spending three productive seasons in the Valley of the Sun before being deemed expendable by coach John MacLeod and general manager Jerry Colangelo.
And so for the tremendously cheap price of a Rick Robey, who was merely a Celtic back-up player, Dennis Johnson, erstwhile enfant terrible, became a member of the Celtics' backcourt.
For which the Celtics now merely say "Thank You, Phoenix."
Dennis Johnson gave the Celtics many things this season. First, he is an acknowledged standout defensive player. He arrived as a five-time member of the NBA All-Defensive first team. Mention the word "defense" in terms of big guards, and the first two people who come to mind are Dennis Johnson and Sidney Moncrief. When the Celtics met the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, Mr. Johnson demonstrated his worth by completely thwarting Mr. Moncrief's attempts at offense throughout that five-game Celtic triumph.
Secondly, Johnson is a scorer, as opposed to being a shooter. His oft- erratic jump shot is abetted by a strong driving ability and a very good inside post-up game. In addition, he ranks among the better offensive rebounders among guards.
But the most important thing about Johnson is that he is a Big Time, Big Game player. He gave the Celtics an added dimension by insuring that there was a legitimately great player at each of the three positions. With Larry Bird at forward and Robert Parish at center, the Celtics were well covered at those spots. But the 1982-83 Celtics' backcourt did not contain any big stars, not with Tiny Archibald on the decline. Thanks to Johnson, the 1983-84 Celtics always enjoyed the presence of true Player of Stature in the backcourt.
The word from the West Coast was that Johnson would be a good regular- season player and a great playoff performer. He is just one tough hombre. Maybe it's the fact that he comes from a family of 16 children and long ago learned to look out for himself. Maybe it's because he was an unnoticed collegiate player from Pepperdine who sneaked into the NBA on the second round of the 1976 draft as a hardship pick.
Whatever the reason, he is fearless. He imparted an aura of mental toughness the Celtics desperately needed after being humiliated by Milwaukee in the 1983 playoffs.
Dennis Johnson now has earned championship rings for two different teams. This man can play.