Before yesterday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics signed NBA veteran Joe Johnson to a 10-day contract. It marked the team’s third replacement player signing in the past few days, but this one felt a bit different. Fast forward a few hours to the fourth quarter last night, and you would understand why.
With a few minutes remaining in the game, the crowd at TD Garden began to chant - “Iso Joe! Iso Joe! Iso Joe!” Head coach Ime Udoka emptied the bench with around two minutes left, Johnson entered the game, and the crowd went ballistic.
Johnson only took one shot, but he made the most of it. He got the ball at the elbow, stepped back, and drained an isolation mid-range shot. The last time he had scored a bucket in the NBA was 1,306 days ago. Talk about an amazing feeling.
After the game, Johnson received nothing but praise. Udoka said he’s “happy for him.” He also shared some insight as to what Johnson and the team were like today:
“He joked in the locker room, ‘if I get them on that hip, it’s done, they’re dead.’ So, we know what he is, everybody said it as they walked in, ‘Joe is a bucket.’ That’s what he is and he’s always been, and so, that’s not going to change. Happy for him.”
Johnson’s getting the chance to play with some young guns now, too, in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Udoka said that Tatum smiled when he told him the news about Johnson, stating that he was one of his favorite players growing up. Brown shared a similar sentiment after the game.
“A lot of memories. A lot of those runs in Atlanta, I got to go to a lot of those games… Definitely a childhood icon. And having him here in the locker room is great.”
Brown grew up in Atlanta when Johnson was playing for the Atlanta Hawks. He played there from 2005 to 2012, making six All-Star appearances over that span. Johnson averaged 20+ points five times in his career, all in Atlanta.
The man of the hour got a chance to speak after the game as well. After getting emotional during the pregame shootaround, Johnson explained how much it meant to him hearing the Boston crowd cheering him on.
“It was exciting, it was fun to get that type of ovation from the crowd. Them chanting my name, that was pretty special to me. So I appreciate them for that.”
At 40-years-old, Johnson has spent the past few years dominating the BIG3 league set up by Ice Cube. He’s taken home two league MVP’s and won a title. He spoke about that experience after the game as well.
“The BIG3 was everything for me. Shout out to Ice Cube for allowing me and giving me a chance to put my skills on display and go out and have fun every weekend. That was special… If it wasn’t for that I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
The Celtics drafted Johnson back in 2001, so to see him get another chance back where it all started is amazing. It’s one of those stories that’s straight out of a movie. Johnson acknowledged that feeling as well.
“For me, yeah, it is kind of surreal. To have them chanting my name like that… To come in the game and be somewhat effective, that’s fun. At my age, you try to relish every moment, enjoy the process, and live in the moment. That’s kind of what I’m doing right now, just living in the moment. It’s fun.”
While his contract is only ten days long, this is something Johnson and the city of Boston will never forget. Sometimes moments in sports come along that seem too good to be true. They seem scripted. This was surely one of those moments.