Kevin Maurice Johnson
March 4, 1966 in Sacramento, California
Sacramento (Sacramento, California)
University of California (1983-1987)
Cleveland Cavaliers, 1st round, 7th pick, 1987 NBA Draft
6-1 ; Weight:
: Point Guard
- NBA (1987-2000)
G - 735
FG% - .493
3PFG% - .305
FT% - .841
Points - 13,127
PPG - 17.9
Rebounds - 2,404
RPG - 3.3
Assists - 6,711
APG - 9.1
Blocks - 176
BPG - 0.2
Steals - 1,082
SPG - 1.5
4 x Second Team All-NBA
1 x Third Team All-NBA
3 x NBA All-Star
Most Improved Player of the Year
J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award
No. 7 retired by Phoenix Suns
No. 11 retired by University of California
Johnson, the son of Georgia West and Lawrence Johnson, was born March 4, 1966, in Sacramento. After his father died in a boating accident when he was three, Johnson was raised by his grandparents, the Peat family. He attended Sacramento High School, where he starred in both baseball and basketball. In his senior year, Johnson led the state of California in scoring (32.5 ppg) and was named the Northern California Player of the Year.
Johnson accepted a scholarship to play basketball for the University of California, Berkeley. As a four-year starter, Johnson ended his college career in 1987 as the school's all-time leader in assists, steals, and scoring (since eclipsed by Lamond Murray and Jerome Randle). Johnson was named to the Pac-10's All-Conference First Team in his junior and senior seasons, averaging 17.2 points and 5.0 assists in his final year. He led Cal to the program's first post-season appearances in 26 seasons with NIT bids in 1986 and 1987 and was the first player in the Pac-10 Conference to post a triple-double. In 1992 Johnson became the first Golden Bear to have his jersey
(No. 11) retired.
Johnson briefly played for Cal's baseball team and the Oakland Athletics drafted him as a shortstop in the twenty-third round of the 1986 MLB Draft. After playing a couple games with Oakland’s minor-league team in Modesto, California during the summer of 1986, Johnson ended his baseball career, finding the road to professional baseball more arduous and risky compared to basketball.
Following his senior season of college basketball, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Johnson with the seventh pick in the 1987 NBA Draft. Originally drafted by Cleveland to challenge the incumbent point guard Mark Price for the starting spot, Johnson found himself playing limited minutes as Price’s backup during the 1987-88 NBA season.
On February 28, 1988, Johnson, Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, and a future draft pick were traded to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for forward Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, and a future draft pick. Adjusting quickly to the change of scenery and much-increased playing time, Johnson excelled and the league named him the NBA Rookie of the Month for April 1988, averaging 15.1 points, an 86.4% field goal percentage, 10.6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds.
In his first full season with Phoenix, Johnson grew into one of the game’s elite players, averaging 20.4 points, 12.2 assists, a 50.5% field goal percentage, and an 88.2% free-throw percentage. With those numbers, Johnson joined Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas as the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points and 12 assists in a season. His rapid improvement earned him the 1988-89 NBA's Most Improved Player Award. The '88-'89 campaign was the first of three straight seasons in which Johnson averaged at least 20 points and 10 assists, joining Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players in league history to accomplish that feat. It also represented the beginning of a new era for the previously moribund Suns' franchise. In K.J.'s first seven full seasons in Phoenix from 1989-1995, the Suns won the most regular season games in the NBA (394, an average of 56 and never fewer than 53), constituting the only club to win at least 50 every year during that span, and they won the second-most playoff games (46), trailing only the Chicago Bulls.
Johnson received berths to the NBA All-Star Team in 1990, 1991, and 1994. In the 1991 All-Star Game in Charlotte, Johnson wore number 41 instead of his familiar number 7. NBC announcers Bob Costas and Mike Fratello speculated that the decision represented K.J.'s quiet way of honoring teammate Mark West, the Suns' stoic, largely unrecognized center who thanklessly executed the dirty work on the glass and in the paint.
In the 1991 NBA All-Star Game, Johnson started alongside Magic Johnson in the Western Conference backcourt. In anticipation of the game, the Sporting News asked whether K.J. may have surpassed Magic as the best player on the court. The previous spring in the 1990 Western Conference Semifinals, Johnson led the Suns past Magic’s league-best, 63-win Los Angeles Lakers, four games to one. Over the last two games, Johnson closed out the series by averaging 33.5 points and a dozen assists as the Suns won both Game Four and Game Five, with K.J. vastly outplaying Magic Johnson in the fourth quarter of both contests. Indeed, Johnson's clutch performances led Hall of Fame center and NBC commentator Bill Walton to later remark, “Kevin Johnson ... really came to the top of this league in the 1990 playoffs when he waxed Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the early rounds. Kevin Johnson – and the Suns – taking care of business in 1990, four to one over the Lakers ... Kevin Johnson just totally outplaying Magic.” Johnson’s performance during the 1990 playoffs led the Suns to a second consecutive berth in the Western Conference Finals as Phoenix became the only team to ever defeat John Stockton's Jazz (55 wins) and Magic Johnson's Lakers (63 wins) in the same postseason.
Johnson made the playoffs every year of his career after his rookie season, reversing the fortunes of the perennially losing Phoenix Suns. The 1992-93 Suns, led by Johnson and new teammate Charles Barkley, posted an NBA-best 62-20 record and managed to make it to the NBA Finals, where they fell to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls four games to two. Johnson averaged 17.8 points and 7.9 assists in the playoffs and established an NBA record for Finals minutes played by logging 62 minutes in Game 3 (a 129-121 triple-OT victory) vs. the Bulls.
But even before Johnson played his first regular season game with Charles Barkley, he suffered an undiagnosed hernia in October 1992 when he attempted to lift obese rookie teammate Oliver Miller off the ground during a preseason game. By the middle of the '95-'96 season, Johnson had suffered a second undiagnosed hernia. Primarily due to the groin, hamstring, quadriceps, and other muscle strains stemming from these hernias, Johnson missed 109 regular season games during his four seasons with Barkley from '92-'93 through '95-'96 (although he only missed one playoff game during his entire career). When diligent off-season workouts during the summer of 1996 failed to erase the abdominal and groin pain that had been plaguing Johnson since the middle of the last season, the Suns' doctors finally diagnosed the second hernia just after the start of training camp in the fall of 1996. Then, during surgery to repair the hernia, the Phoenix doctors discovered the second, "hidden" hernia that had existed for four years.
Despite the undiagnosed hernia problems, K.J. continued to thrive in the postseason like few other point guards in the 1990s.
In 1994, he averaged 26.6 points and 9.6 assists in the postseason, scoring 38 points three different times in ten games.
In 1995, after an injury-riddled regular season, Johnson returned to form in the postseason. He averaged 24.8 points on 57.3% shooting from the field and 9.3 assists in ten games, including 43 points (18-24 FG) with 9 assists in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals versus Houston and 46 points (21-22 FT) with 10 assists in Game Seven. During that series, K.J. sank more three-pointers (5) than he'd hit in the entire '94-'95 regular season (4).
In Game Four of the previous year’s series with Houston, Johnson completed a remarkable play, driving the baseline and dunking over 7’0” Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon. The shot became an oft-played highlight for the ages and was part of a second consecutive 38-point, 12-assist effort by the point guard
In the summer of 1994, Johnson played with the U.S. National Team, otherwise known as Dream Team II, in the 1994 FIBA World Championship, reuniting with old teammate and point guard rival Mark Price to win the gold medal. Johnson led Dream Team II in both total assists (31) and assists per game (3.9) while shooting 47.1% (16–34) from the field and 50.0% (16-32) on two-point field goal attempts. The U.S. head coach, Don Nelson, stated, "I really like having KJ on the court. The thing that stood out is how he sacrificed his scoring to be a distributor of the ball and make his team win. We didn't need his offense on this team. We did need his defense, penetration and assists. He gave us all three."
Johnson retired after the 1997–98 season, but returned briefly during the 1999–2000 campaign to replace the injured Jason Kidd during the playoff run. Johnson helped the Suns win their first playoff series in five years. After Phoenix lost in the second round to the Los Angeles Lakers, he retired for the second and final time.