Dennis Johnson: Why Isn't This Defensive Wizard in the NBA Hall of Fame?

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Dennis Johnson: Why Isn't This Defensive Wizard in the NBA Hall of Fame?
(Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

There are a number of players who have reached the pinnacle of NBA success but are surprisingly not in the Hall of Fame. One of the most glaring omissions, in my opinion, is former Boston Celtics guard, Dennis Johnson.

It has been a little over two years since his death while coaching the Austin Toros. He retired after the 1989-1990 season, his 14th season in the NBA.

Despite his career achievements, his numbers, and his reputation, he has not been granted entrance into the Hall of Fame. This is my short presentation of his HOF credentials.

D.J. is most frequently identified as a member of the Celtics, but he was drafted by the Seattle Sonics in 1976. He played for the Phoenix Suns from 1980-1983, and was traded to the Celtics following the 1982-1983 season.

Originally a shooting guard, he quickly became known for his aggressive play, especially on defense. In the 1978 Finals, he blocked seven shots in Game Three, still a Finals record for a visiting player.

In 1979, he did one better, winning the NBA championship and being named Finals MVP.  He also earned his first of nine consecutive NBA All-Defense Teams (First and Second teams), and was selected to his first All-Star Game.

He redefined himself multiple times to match up with his teammates and his team's needs. He was a slashing shooting guard when he started with the Sonics and developed a physical defensive presence. When traded to the Suns, he was needed to score more, so he did just that.

When he was traded to the Boston, he molded himself into a clutch shooter with stifling defense and a keen eye for passing.

In his years with the Celtics, he was asked to take a calmer approach and to take a backseat to the "Big Three" of Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, and Kevin McHale. He adjusted his game each time with incredible ease.

Larry Bird, in his biography Drive, called D.J. the best teammate he ever had. Magic Johnson called him the toughest backcourt defender of all time.

Here are the stats that stick out: 15,535 points; 5,499 assists; 4,249 rebounds; 1,477 steals; 675 blocks. 

He was voted to nine All-Defensive teams: Six First-Team selections and three Second-Team. He was a three-time NBA champion, five-time All-Star, and the 1979 Finals MVP.

There are perhaps a dozen players who’ve amassed such a broad spread of statistics.

What defined D.J. more than the statistics were his tenacious defense and his clutch shooting. Such things don’t typically show up on the stat sheet. Still, the people who played with or against Dennis Johnson spoke highly of the way he played.

Joe Dumars is in the Hall of Fame. I don’t begrudge him the honor; he was an excellent player and was known as a class act despite being part of the self-titled “Bad Boys.”

But if Dumars, known primarily for his defensive prowess, is in the Hall of Fame, why hasn't Dennis Johnson been voted in?

Dumars averaged two ppg more than Johnson, and was in one more All-Star Game (six to five). However, he averaged fewer rebounds, fewer assists, fewer blocks, and fewer steals. 

D.J. also had more All-Defensive Team selections. He was a part of six Finals teams, three times coming away with the Championship. Dumars was a member of three Finals teams, winning twice.

In the playoffs, D.J. averaged more points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks than Dumars.  In fact, DJ has more playoff offensive rebounds (262) than Dumars has playoff rebounds (257). 

Granted, it must be noted that Dumars played in 112 playoff games compared to D.J.’s 180, but even still the per game averages cannot be dismissed.

It is my fervent hope that the selection committee will finally choose this year to grant Dennis Johnson the honor that so many former teammates and opponents feel he deserves.

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