Former Suns player and coach Frank Johnson came into my sportswriting class and we interviewed him for a while. This is what I wrote about it.
“It was certainly a new experience for me, very exciting, different, more pressure, than I had ever experienced before, didn’t know what that pressure was until you got there,” former Phoenix Suns player and coach Frank Johnson said in a recent press conference, reliving his role as the veteran backup point guard for the Suns when they made the NBA finals in 1993 with Charles Barkley against the legendary Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls.
As a 12-year veteran, Johnson hadn’t yet made it past the third-round of the playoffs and was looking for that title. After the disappointment of losing that epic series, Johnson went on to coach the Suns as well as enjoying success outside the realm of basketball.
What made Johnson the man who could contribute to that historic run in Phoenix?
Johnson’s overseas career molded his skills into the player capable of running the Phoenix offense in pressure situations when Kevin Johnson rested on the bench.
He played college ball at Wake Forest, was drafted 11th overall in the 1981 NBA draft, and played for the Washington Bullets, Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets and a few European teams. By the time he got to Phoenix, he knew he needed to change his perspective if he was to earn a ring.
“There was a stretch of my career, I was about numbers, but at that stage I wasn’t,” Johnson said of his role on the ’93 Finals team.
Johnson played for a couple of Italian teams and a French team in Europe, having experiences that made him a better player.
Johnson said the overseas game was more open and free-flowing than the NBA. This prepared him to play for the Phoenix Suns, who play a faster, up-tempo style.
Playing in Europe added skills and experience that he would need for his future in the NBA Finals.
“In term of being in Europe…I was supposed to be the man. I was never a big scorer, but I had to do scoring and passing there. That’s what they expect,” Johnson said.
Europe was also the place an epiphany happened for Johnson.
“Never thought I would coach, certainly early in my career, never thought about coaching.” But that all changed after he headed to Europe and culminated in a coaching career with the Suns.