It might not happen right away, but finally, Kevin Johnson has been named as a finalist for the Naismith Hall of Fame. The final decision isn’t due to come until the NCAA Final Four in April, but at least Johnson is starting to get the kind of publicity he deserves for a terrific career with the Phoenix Suns.
Here’s the list of finalists:
- Alonzo Mourning
- Nolan Richardson
- Eddie Sutton
- Gary Williams
- Tim Hardaway
- Spencer Haywood
- Harley Redin
- Mitch Richmond
When we look at Johnson’s career as a whole, we realize that he has two major things going against him. He never won a championship ring and he missed a TON of games due to injury throughout his career. With that said, he still averaged 17.9 points, 9.1 assists and 1.5 steals for his career. In the playoffs, he was at 19.3 points, 8.9 assists and 1.3 steals.
When Johnson first came to the Suns during the 1987-88 season, they weren’t quite sure what to make of him. Sure, he was explosive but he was small (6’1″, 180 lbs) and they weren’t sure how he’d fit in. It didn’t take long before they realize they fleeced the Cleveland Cavaliers by trading Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a first-round pick for Johnson, Tyrone Corbin, Mark West, a first-round pick (that became Dan Majerle) and two second-round picks.
In his first full season with the Suns, Johnson averaged 20.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 12.2 assists and 1.7 steals, while shooting 50.5 percent from the field. Over his first four full seasons, he averaged 21.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 11.1 assists and 1.6 steals in 310 games. Those numbers are without question All-Star caliber, but then the injuries started to take their toll.
In his next six seasons, he played just 339 games (starting 286). That’s 23 less starts than in his previous four seasons. His aggressive style combined with the era’s physical play ended up being too much for his body to handle. It makes me wonder how good he could be in today’s NBA, where you can barely put a hand on the ball handler without being whistled for a foul.
Hopefully Johnson’s off-court work with the Sacramento Kings will also earn him some votes. He was instrumental in keeping the Kings in Sacramento, otherwise they were off to Seattle. His on-court career was like a flare, burning hot and bright, then fading away. Was his peak long enough to get him in? It’s a tough choice — and one I’m glad I don’t have to make.
Michael Dunlap is an NBA credentialed writer who is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the Sports Illustrated/Fansided NBA site HoopsHabit.com and the Arizona Sports site HeatWaved.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic. Follow me on Twitter @DunlapNBA.