When you Google "James Johnson" now, the second and third entries are for this very Watch. It's quite a legacy. I wanted James Johnson, the man himself, to know about it. But as I shuffled up to him after the Raptors final defeat of the season (bumping into the chair Patrick Patterson occupied, towel draped over his head, lost deep in a chamber of reflection), I knew it would feel weird to bring it up. I already felt weird before opening my mouth.
Johnson is not the first player who we feel should be better on the court than he is. He's definitely the only one who also has a black belt in karate though. To me, this dedication to something else besides his ostensible career makes Johnson more relatable, not less -- or it could be that I'm projecting (he said with a straight face). It suggests multitudes.
The truth is, there was no realistic way I could talk to Johnson, fresh off a Game 6 defeat or before some random game in January for that matter, and somehow scratch this deep philosophical itch this column eventually found. How do you explain to someone that you're using bits of their life and career as a springboard into a discussion about something -- anything -- else. Part of me thinks Johnson would have gotten it, seen the value in other things outside of basketball, a life dedicated to other interests, thoughts and feelings. He's outwardly seems pretty zen after all. Part of me, of course, assumed he'd think it all very strange.
In the end, as is always the case, we'll never know for sure. Johnson never fulfilled his potential with the Raptors, or in his career. He has to look forward to the next decades of his life and wonder where it'll go next, in basketball or other avenues. There is uncertainty there, even though he clearly has a skill set that could help an NBA team (or, like, a karate dojo) tomorrow. I did end up talking to him very briefly, but it didn't go as I'd hoped.
So, to James I say: If you're ever bored and start Googling your own name, I hope these dispatches find you well. Good luck and godspeed.
Did James Johnson Play?
In -- quite frankly -- an amazing turn of events, Johnson played in 14:55 minutes of game action for the last week, the last game of the season. I set the line at 13.5, which means I was actually scarily accurate in predicting the week's events. Sad for the Raptors, good for me (and maybe you if you took the over).
Johnson wasn't particularly effective in Game 6, the Raptors' last stand against the forces of Cleveland. He went 1-for-4 from the field for two points, grabbed a rebound and had two turnovers. The Great JJ Renaissance 2016 -- the thing that could have happened had Johnson slowed down LeBron in some way or made the Cavs pay for going small/soft on the frontline -- never quite happened.
Afterwards, Johnson was quick to defer to the team's astounding accomplishments on the year, but he did gift me with this perfect nugget of a personal assessment:
"What I did in the little span I got when somebody went down and I filled in for them, I thought I did OK."
What more could you ask for, really?
Sometimes, it's the little things:
One last James Johnson full court drive. I can rest in peace.— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) May 28, 2016
As for Johnson's experience with this Raptors group, the man sums it up like so:
"Definitely top two... We're resilient, what happened with us last year. Everyone took that as a personal vendetta and came back stronger and came back ready to go as far as we did this year."
Prediction for the Week
Compatriot slash rival was at the BioSteel centre yesterday and witnessed Johnson on hand:
James Johnson sighting at BioSteel. Getting swole, obviously.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) June 1, 2016
It's not exactly tough, however, to predict where Johnson goes from here. That place? Not Toronto. It seems almost funny now to reflect on the fact that Johnson was brought into the Raptors organization after they were beat up by the big "small" Brooklyn Nets of 2014. Feels like that happened 400 years ago.
In the two year odyssey since then, and the one year this column has been in existence, Johnson remained as maddeningly inconsistent as he's always been. He started in 32 games this year (his most since his last tour in Toronto in 2011-12) and all of his statistics went into a decline (except his 3-point shooting!) There were games when he was doin' things and games when he looked like he was on a different plane of reality.
In other words: I have no concrete idea what James Johnson will be doing next week.
Over/Under Minutes: N/A
It's over for real this time. You're free.
Thanks for reading.