Kevin Johnson: 'My story is a Phoenix story'

PHOENIX — Kevin Johnson never expected all of this.

Coming out of a poor northern California neighborhood, he never dreamed of getting to the NBA, let alone be one of the most electrifying players in the league for many years. From 1988-1997, Johnson averaged 19.8 points and 10 assists per game as he led the Suns to the playoffs every single year, including a berth in the 1993 NBA Finals.

Johnson is grateful for his time in the desert and believes his current success outside of basketball can be traced back to his time in purple and orange.

“My story is a Phoenix story,” Johnson said on Sunday, when he returned to Phoenix.

Johnson’s career began to rise from the ashes when he was traded during his rookie season from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1988. When he arrived to the valley, the team was in the midst of its fourth straight sub-.500 season and the organization was a mess.

Things were about to change.

The Suns had a dramatic turnaround in the 1988-89 season, which coincided with Johnson’s rise to the top.

“I remember when I first got here and this organization was in shambles,” Johnson said. “We only won 28 games that year and I think we had one of the three biggest turnarounds in NBA history the next year.

“We had a great run, for 11 years straight we were in the playoffs and I was on that team.”

During those 11 years, one particular moment sticks out with Suns fans, and all NBA fans. And that is his dunk on Olajuwon during the 1994 playoffs.

On Sunday night the Suns celebrated the 20th anniversary of that dunk by giving posters of Johnson’s “poster” to all fans and having Johnson talk with Al McCoy during halftime of the Suns and Houston Rockets game.

The 6-foot-1 point guard still has fond memories of that dunk.

“Hard to believe 20 years have gone by since dunk on Olajuwon,” Johnson said. “Every time I come back to Phoenix I get emotional because I grew up here, everything I learned as a young adult is because somebody taught me that.”

Johnson attributed his current political success to the people in the Suns organization and in the city of Phoenix, who helped him grow up. The current Mayor of Sacramento, who led the charge for the NBA to keep the Kings franchise in California’s capital, still loves the people of Phoenix and is very regretful about not bringing an NBA championship back to Phoenix.

“I have always had a love affair for the fans here,” Johnson said. “I was thankful and they supported me in ways I could not even imagine.

“My mixed feelings for this community, on the court, in the 1093 Finals we come up short and you think you have this window to get back, and next two years we run into Houston and they win it,” he added. “So, for three straight years we lose to the NBA champs, and after that Charles (Barkley) moves on and the window is closed. Yes, I have real strong mixed feelings for 1993, 1994, 1995 seasons and I thought we were primed to contend and win a championship and we didn’t do that.”

Johnson’s story may not include a NBA championship, but it may include an individual accomplishment that has been long overdue. This year, Johnson was announced as a finalist for the Hall of Fame, something that humbled the Mayor.

“It was overwhelming and very humbling,” Johnson said. “The first thing you think about is all the people you need to thank.

“The second thing you think about is the list of people that make the Hall of Fame, and that is a pretty big deal.”

There would be no better ending for Johnson’s Phoenix story than to be cemented into basketball lore at the highest of levels.

A true rise from the ashes.

Tags: Kevin Johnson Phoenix Suns

  • sunsn7

    He had injury problems throughout his career but he only missed like 5 playoff games out of something like 102..check those numbers, im certain they are very close.

    Not only that but KJ was one of them explosive stars that elevated his game in the postseason, check his postseason stats.

    On top of that, head to head, he regularly outplayed the likes of John Stockton, Tim Hardaway, Gary Payton, Isaiah Thomas, Mark Price. KJ always seemed to be especially geared up for the games against rival point guards.

    It’s a shame an injury riddled Barkley didnt hand the reigns to KJ during those Houston series. Kenny Smith, Vernon “mad max” Maxwell, Sam Cassell? None of them cats had an answer for him.

    He definitely should be in the HOF.

  • john

    If longevity and durability didn’t count for anything in the eyes of HOF voters, KJ would have been in long ago. The fact, however, is that for whatever reason, players who burn extremely bright but fizzle earlier than expected (KJ) don’t get the same attention as guys who put out a pretty dull light for a very long time. By talent, ability, and accomplishments while able to be on the court, KJ was up there with any of the best from the golden age of point guards. I’d put him third behind Magic and Stockton from that era (and Stockton is only a maybe).

  • sunsn7

    Agree with you John and I also have him 3rd in that era behind Magic and Stockton and I give Johnny the nod based on TWO Finals appearances and his rugged durability, all time assists and steals leader..but KJ Iis right there.

    The man was a big gamer.

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  • EBJM

    “Not only that but KJ was one of them explosive stars that elevated his game in the postseason, check his postseason stats”

    Thank-you I will!

    In two of THE biggest games of his career:

    Game one of the Finals, he shot 4 of 13 for 11 points and had only two dimes as the Suns lose game one to the Bulls by eight.

    Game two of the Finals he shot 2 of 8 for 4 points and had six dimes as the Suns lose by four points and are now down zero games to two for the Bulls.

    Ummmm..I’m not quite sure if that could be considered “elevating” his game in the postseason?

    Now to the casual observer, it would seem that IF he was a “big gamer” he would have played like a 20/10 player the Suns would have won the Finals 4 games to 2 and would have been the Champions.

    So what message are you trying to convey Sunsn7, I’m not quite sure. That K.J. was an All-NBA player except that when it really mattered the most he choked under pressure?

  • sunsn7

    Yep you got a point there..he did bounce back the remainder of the series including the triple OT Game 3 in Chicago. But yeah those first two games are painful to recall.

    ..maybe if Barkley hadn’t been binge drinking during the Finals

  • john

    Those were two games out of 105. KJ was admittedly poor overall in the ’93 playoffs, but who wouldn’t have been after missing a huge chunk of the season? Jordan wasn’t Jordan after missing half of the season in ’94-’95.

  • EBJM

    I was just messing with Sunsn7 John. K.J. is my favorite Sun’s PG of all-time!

  • john

    Ha, I figured. I just couldn’t let the last word be bashing KJ, even if it was just a joke. :)

  • Walt Coogan

    K.J. excelled, overall, in the 1993 postseason, shooting .507 from the field in the Western Conference Playoffs (.526 if you throw out the one game where he played through a deep thigh bruise and shot 2-11) and delivering doberman-style defense. He proved much more consistent than the sometimes spectacular yet extremely erratic Barkley, and when you consider the difference in defense, K.J. was arguably the Suns’ playoff MVP in terms of winning the West that year. He wasn’t as dominant and prolific as he would be in the 1994 and 1995 playoffs, but overall, he was very consistent and played the complete game on an exceedingly high level.

    Yes, he suffered two poor performances in the first two games of the 1993 NBA Finals. Well, in the last four games, he never scored fewer than 19 points, his defense on Jordan changed the series, and guess what? Twice in those Finals, Barkley (the MVP power forward) shot below .390 from the field.

  • Walt Coogan

    Oh, and in the history of Game Sevens (among those who have played in at least three such games), K.J. ranks fourth all-time in scoring average at 31.0 (trailing only LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and George Gervin) and is tied for fourth all-time in assists average at 10.0 (trailing only Magic Johnson, John Stockton, and Bob Cousy, tied with Steve Nash). K.J.’s free throw percentage in those games was .933 (42-45, 15.0 FTA) and his True Shooting Percentage was .581.

    Back to the 1993 playoffs, in the two winner-take-all games (versus the Lakers and Sonics), K.J. averaged 23.0 points, 11.0 assists, 4.0 steals, 1.5 blocked shots, a .519 field goal percentage (14-27), and an .818 free throw percentage in 11.0 FTA (18-22).

    Indeed, there’s a reason why in 1998, the “Sporting News” named K.J., along with Isiah Thomas, as its All-Playoffs Second Team guards for the decade of the 1990s (behind Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler on the First Team).