Hall of Fame Boston Celtics point guard Dennis Johnson made a name for himself as a defensive menace long before he got to the Celtics, earning a total of nine bigs to an All-Defensive team over the course of his 14 seasons in the NBA.
And though he won the bulk of his three titles in Boston, it was a Celtics connection that the San Pedro, California native credited as providing the foundation for that championship-caliber defense: none other than Hall of Fame Boston big man legend Bill Russell, who was his head coach with the (then) Seattle SuperSonics (now, Oklahoma City Thunder), his first team in the league.
“Having Bill Russell as my coach was intimidating, but he did a good job of pulling me aside and pointing things out,” Johnson said to Michael D. McClellan of Celtic Nation.
“We talked a lot,” DJ continued. “That’s how I started learning the pro game, and my defense became very good.”
“I started analyzing other players’ moves and tendencies and figuring out how to counter them. I didn’t follow the Boston Celtics all that much growing up, but I knew who Russell was and what the Celtics were accomplishing at that time.”
“So when he talked to me about basketball, I definitely listened and tried to incorporate what he was saying,” explained the Celtics floor general.
Russell wasn’t the only Celtics alumnus who made an impact on a young Johnson — the Pepperdine standout also cited Paul Silas as a mentor in his time in Seattle (rest in peace).
Silas “never stopped mentoring me, never stopped dispensing advice so valuable to winning championships,” suggested DJ. “He was a 15-year veteran by then, and I respected him greatly.”
“I was young and hotheaded, and a lot of what was said went in one ear and out the other,” he added — though enough seemed to have stuck for Johnson to help Boston win two more titles in 1984 and 1986.
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Story originally appeared on Celtics Wire