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Chris Johnson Taking it 10 Days at a Time

Chris Johnson is seeing Green.
Chris Johnson is seeing Green.

Chris Johnson sat alone at his locker for a while, hanging out. Maybe he was just taking it all in. After all, just last week he was shooting hoops in Where-are-we-anyways, North Dakota.

Chances are there was more media in that room on that night than he's seen in his entire professional career combined.

"You trying to get out of here?" I asked, hoping he wasn't.

"Nah, I can talk," he responded.

Signed to a 10-day contract by the Celtics last Thursday to address their lack of healthy big men problem on that night, the 6-foot-11, 211-pound Johnson went from arguably the best player on his D-League team, the Dakota Wizards, to the forgotten one on Boston's.

He'll take it.

Now, he wears the No. 86 for the Celtics, not because he chose to, but because that was the only jersey they had for him that night in Denver.

Again, no complaints there.

He also got Erden's old locker, the one in-between former teammate Glen Davis, and Ray Allen.

Johnson was part of the LSU Tigers team, led by Davis and Tyrus Thomas, that went to the Final Four back in 2006.

While he didn't play much that season, he certainly learned a lot. In 2009, he was named to the SEC All-Defensive team as a senior, and finished second all-time in blocks at LSU behind, guess who, Shaquille O'Neal.

But that wasn't enough to garner much attention from the NBA.

Johnson tried his luck with the Nets and Sixers Summer League teams, but to no avail. Next stop, Turkey.

Johnson and his girlfriend at the time moved out there together after college. Though she went to college out in San Diego, the two met through one of Johnson's teammates at LSU.

But he didn't have the same experience and success in Turkey that the player who formerly held his locker had.

"Didn't like it," Johnson said. "They weren't professional with the players and things like that."

He played a few games in Turkey before his season ended abruptly.

"They forged the signature to get me out of the contract," he said. "They just came over with the paper that had my signature on it. They were like, ‘This is how it's going to work.' I didn't know what was going on."

Johnson and his agent were going to fight it, but with the rules in Europe, it can go to arbitration with no guarantee you get the money that is rightfully yours.

Instead, he took the high road and high tailed it out of there.

"I just told [my agent] I wanted to start over, just find me another job. That's when Poland came. There was one team I went to. Turkey hadn't released me yet, even though they forged my signature, they didn't release me in time. So one Polish team released me because Turkey didn't give me a release. So I went to another Polish team, (PGE Turów) Zgorzelec and I played pretty good there - it was better than Turkey."

After the season, Johnson and his girlfriend moved back to the States. He trained with his brother in Orlando, and in August got married to his college sweetheart.

In September he got a call from his agent who told him the Celtics wanted to bring him in to training camp. Again, he was cut, but Celtics President Danny Ainge gave him a little advice this time.

"I got waved and Danny Ainge pretty much told me and my agent to pursue the D-League because he felt I could play in this league. And that's what I did. The Dakota Wizards drafted me and I played there."

It was in November of last year when he was drafted ninth overall. This season he's averaged nearly a double-double (16.9 points and 9.6 rebounds) in 33 games.

He was called up by the Portland Trailblazers on a 10-day contract in late January but was sent back when it expired.

Although North Dakota isn't exactly the entertainment capital of the world, Johnson is enjoying his time there - aside from the cold.

"It's like in the negatives right now," he said. "This is nothing right here. I like it other than the weather. It's a cool place. The fans welcome me. I really like my teammates there. Real cool guys; keep you laughing. The coaching staff - I like them too. Roy White, he was an assistant coach with the Clippers, and Bernard Smith, he was with the Sixers."

But unlike during his time in Turkey and Poland, his wife can't be there with him for moral support along the way.

Being from New Zealand, she was forced to return there in December because her Visa expired.

"It's been tough," he said. "A lot of Skype."

As to when she will be coming back, there's still no answer. Johnson thought that because they were married she would be able to stay. Nope.

"Just waiting, being patient. It sucks pretty bad."

Not having your loved ones by your side could definitely put your mind in different places, but Johnson knows that he will see her again soon, and continues to play hard in her absence. She's watching all of his games over the Internet.

"I'm doing this whole thing for her - me and my family," he said. "So that keeps me going."

Johnson clearly has the attention of Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers, who seem to want him back for another 10-day contract.

"He's athletic as heck," Rivers said. I would love to have him longer. I think in some ways he can actually help your defense with his ability. The stronger bigs really hurt him, he just doesn't know how to hold his ground right now, but I like him. Danny keeps telling me he can really shoot the ball."

It hasn't been an easy road for Johnson up to this point, and it doesn't expect to get any easier. But if history proves anything, it's that he'll keep on keeping on.

After all, there's a fan in New Zealand counting on him.

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