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Layups: Dennis Johnson Elected to Hall of Fame

Posted by Neil Paine on April 4, 2010

Better late than never: ESPN has a source reporting that Dennis Johnson, the legendary guard who played a key role on three championship teams during the 1970s & '80s (2 with the Boston Celtics and 1 with the Seattle SuperSonics), has apparently been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this voting cycle. Johnson, who passed away suddenly at age 52 in 2007, had been long regarded as one of the HoF's most glaring omissions, given his championship resume and the fact that he made up half of one of the most famous plays in NBA history. It's a shame he couldn't live to see the honor, but congratulations are still in order to Johnson, one of the winningest players of all time.

34 Responses to “Layups: Dennis Johnson Elected to Hall of Fame”

  1. Ian Says:

    Congratulations to DJ for this well-deserved honor! It's horrible that it took the Hall so long to recognize him.

  2. Jason J Says:

    WAY past due.

  3. Gabe Says:

    Congrats to another member of the Hall Of Very Good, for receiving an honor they probably don't deserve.

  4. Frank N Says:

    I liked DJ. I have actual visual recollections of him playing in Seattle and Phoenix as well as with the Celts.

    A terrific ballplayer. Not a Hall of Famer.

  5. Frank N Says:

    Absolutely belongs in the "Hall of Very Good", a concept that occurred to me when I first thought about his induction, but I couldn't think of what to call it. Hall of very Good sounds much better than Hall of Too Bad, but Not Quite, Damn.

  6. Neil Paine Says:

    Eh, even putting aside my pro-1980s Celtics bias, as a stathead I can't get too upset about this. His HoF probability was basically 50%:

    By comparison, Dumars was 38%, if you want to get really mad about undeserving selections...

    Now obviously there are a lot of other guys who need to get in too, if we're going to put DJ there: Artis Gilmore, Bernard King, Bobby Dandridge, Jo Jo White, Chet Walker, Dennis Rodman... etc. These are all guys I'd like to see inducted if we're inducting DJ as well.

  7. sp6r=underrated Says:


    With all due respect, you can't justify DJ's selection by using the HOF Probability Meter. The HOF Probablity Meter was created, I believe, to determine who is likely to make the hall of fame not who should make the HOF.

    Bottom line, if DJ wasn't the 4th best player on two Boston Celtic title teams (only one which was historically great) he would have no shot at making the HOF.

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    Obviously the HoF probability isn't designed to measure whether a player "deserves" to be in the Hall from a strict standpoint of how much value he created in his career, but at what point does performing to standards that traditionally get a player into the HoF actually become the de facto measure of "deserving" enshrinement? I mean, if you drop the notion that the HoF ever has, ever will, or even should create a line in the sand where every player who created more value than Guy X should be in and every player who created less shouldn't, I think you can look back at past voting tendencies and say DJ is a fringe candidate but not ludicrously undeserving, especially in light of the Dumars selection. I'm a pragmatist at this point: the Hall of Fame has already let in players worse than DJ. There's nothing keeping it from inducting players worse than DJ in the future. Besides, they induct random coaches and other obscure figures all the time. So why get hung up on whether a guy whose resume traditionally gets him inducted 50% of the time gets in?

    If the NBA ever started its own Hall of Fame, would I put DJ there? No. But I wouldn't put a lot of guys there. And we'd have an objective set of statistical measures to go on, and we'd know who the voters are, etc. Right now, we don't have any of those things, so it's tough to get riled up about sending a guy like DJ, who has an indelible place in the fabric of the game, to Springfield. I guess I'm saying that the Hall as currently constructed is broken, and it's pointless to try to fix it.

  9. sp6r=underrated Says:

    Why not Marques Johnson for the HOF if DJ's in?

  10. ScottR. Says:

    DJ shouldn't need the Hall of Fame to validate his career. It's very hard to quantify how good he really was, but there is no dispute that he was a key component of the 80s Celtics.

    Looking at just his numbers, I'd say he's a marginal candidate but I still think of him as a great player. He was smart and tough as they come on defense and always seemed to make key shots. He's sort of like Joe Dumars in that he didn't put him stellar numbers but if you watched him play you could not deny his value to the team. Basketball is not totally objective like baseball so, in that sense, I think a case can be made for DJ in the Hall.

  11. Jason J Says:

    I'm so horribly biased that I shouldn't even bother to argue the point, but to me DJ was the real stability of the latter two titles of the Bird era. His perimeter defense was absolutely crucial against the likes of Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson, and once he lost a step and couldn't keep up with Isiah, that was it. Boston didn't have a back-up plan.

    Statistically he has a higher career WS than Worthy, Isiah, Goodrich... all HoFers. I'm sure that's largely due to the length of his career, but that ought to be worth something in itself.

    Then again, DJ is easily my all-time favorite point guard, so I should just clam up.

  12. Sean Says:

    I'm glad he got inducted. It isn't the Hall of Superstars, or the Hall of the Best Statistical Resumes; if that was the case there would be about 15 members. The Hall of Fame is about honoring the greatest who ever played the game, and Dennis Johnson certainly earned that distinction.

  13. Sean Says:

    And hold on a sec: Neil, you stated that DJ "has an indelible place in the fabric of the game." That sounds like someone who belongs in the Hall to me, certainly more so than Walt Bellamy or Calvin Murphy, or Vince Carter years from now (whose stats will undoubtedly trick guillible fans and voters into thinking he was one of the best shooting guards ever).

  14. Neil Paine Says:

    He was an important part of one of the best teams in NBA history, the 1980s Celtics, plus the leading minutes-getter on another championship team. If you watched the Finals from 1979-88, the guy was always there. And he scored after Larry Bird's steal vs. Detroit. So he's a pretty important part of NBA history as a byproduct of all that.

    Is he one of the greatest players ever? I'm not sure. I think a guy like Vince Carter is a better/more talented ballplayer. So I wouldn't include him in my own personal HoF (which would only include, like, 15 guys). But given the way the real Hall has voted in the past and the emphasis they place on moments and importance to the game beyond pure talent, I think DJ is deserving.

  15. Mike G Says:

    The HOF monitor should give points for playing in NY, Bos, and LA.

  16. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Is Vince Carter likely to make the HOF someday? Barf. What a freaking joke that would be.

  17. Mike G Says:

    Well, he IS an 8-time AllStar, twice all-NBA.

  18. sp6r=underrated Says:

    Question for anyone

    Suppose the Celtics/Lakers rivalry in the 80s was instead a Jazz/Bucks rivalry.

    Does anyone honestly believe that the loser of the rivalry (which is what the Celtics were) would end up with 4/5s of their starting lineup in the HOF?

  19. Jason J Says:

    You're right. We need to start a movement to get Ainge in there too!

  20. sp6r=underrated Says:

    Don't worry you probably will get Ainge in the HOF.

  21. Sean Says:

    So Dennis Johnson shouldn't have been inducted because the Lakers won more championships in the 80's ? How does that make any sense whatsoever? The Jazz of the 90's have just as many Hall of Famers as the Bulls from that era; is that some sort of injustice as well?

    By the way, he did have a career before he hooked up with the Celtics. Two-time finalist with the Sonics (and one time champion), Finals MVP, 2 All-NBA teams (1 First and 1 Second), 5 All-Defensive First Teams, 4 All-Star games: he accrued all of these honors before he got to Boston.

  22. ScottR. Says:

    Funny to compare VC and DJ. Clearly VC the better individual player, but no way I'd want him on my team more than DJ. That's basketball for you.

  23. sp6r=underrated Says:

    I apologize in advance if I did the formatting wrong.

    So Dennis Johnson shouldn't have been inducted because the Lakers won more championships in the 80's ? How does that make any sense whatsoever? The Jazz of the 90's have just as many Hall of Famers as the Bulls from that era; is that some sort of injustice as well?

    two points I was trying to make:

    1. I wanted DJ's supporters to really start considering would he have received this massive HOF punch if he didn't have the backing of the Boston. Do you honestly think a team in Milwaukee that won 2 championships would get 4 people inducted into their HOF primarily for their involvement with those teams? I'm almost certain that they wouldn't.

    2. The other point I hoped you would consider is that the mid 80s Celtics success rate was pretty low considering that they allegedly had 4 HOF players. A team that had 4 HOF in there starting lineup, one of whom is commonly considered a top 10 player of all time, should have been a better than the mid 80s Celtics. Look at the handy SRS on this website, for team quality


    Compare that to this decade spurs
    04: 7.51
    05: 7.84
    06: 6.69
    07: 8.35
    08: 5.10

    If the Celtics really had 4 HOF caliber players, why weren't they crushing people at a historic rate like the late 90s bulls? If you believe Boston fans Larry Bird had a near GOAT level peak. He was surrounded with 3 other HOF. Its fair to

    Two-time finalist with the Sonics (and one time champion), Finals MVP, 2 All-NBA teams (1 First and 1 Second), 5 All-Defensive First Teams, 4 All-Star games: he accrued all of these honors before he got to Boston.

    1. Gus Williams was the best player on those sonic teams.
    2. That doesn't look like much of a HOF resume or if it is I can find a ton of HOF.

    Finally, its very interesting, that on a stat website, not one DJ supporter has even tried to make a statistical case for DJ being in the HOF. Not one.

  24. Sean Says:

    @sp6r=underrated Says

    1.) No, I don't believe playing in Boston pushed him over the top. There are innumerable Hall of Famers who played the majority of their careers in smaller markets, and there are many more who I think deserve induction, regardless of what city they played in.

    And yes, if Milwaukee had won as many championships as the Celts did in the 1980s, they probably would have had 3 or 4 players inducted. Bob Lanier already is a Hall of Famer, and Sidney Moncrief and Jack Sikma are worthy of consideration; who knows how a title or two would have affected their legacies historically (especially in Sikma's case).

    2.)Really? Their success rate was low? They made the Finals four years in a row after DJ arrived (not that he had everything to do with it, but he certainly played a huge role), winning two of them in a tough, tough league. And the team they lost two championships to? It also had a guy playing at a GOAT-like level, along with three other Hall of Famers (Kareem, Worthy, McAdoo in '84 and '85).

    3.)Not all Hall of Famers are created equal. Michael Jordan was a better player than Cylde Drexler; this fact doesn't invalidate the former's greatness. No, DJ wasn't at Bird or McHale's level, but he was great in his own right and for different reasons.

    4.)Gus Williams was the best player on that Sonics team? According to who? If that's the case, why hasn't there been more outcry regarding Williams' exclusion from the Hall? Why were so many coaches and ex-players and sportswriters championing DJ's candidacy for so long? For God sakes, even Charley Rosen (who's constantly decrying the East Coast bias of the Hall) was fully supportive of DJ's induction.

    5.)I listed DJ's credentials before he arrived in Boston to demonstrate that he wasn't inducted because of his time with the Celtics alone. His career in its totality was great and made him worthy of enshrinement.

  25. Mike G Says:

    " its very interesting, that on a stat website, not one DJ supporter has even tried to make a statistical case for DJ being in the HOF."

    - How many guys have more career points, rebounds, assists, and blocks than DJ?

    - Pippen, Jordan, Bird, and Drexler; possibly Oscar and Havlicek.

  26. Anon Says:

    Gus Williams WAS the best player on that Sonics team; he was 2nd during the regular season for the Sonics in WS, and he led the team in WS in the playoffs. For his career, he was actually a pretty good regular season player, and stepped up his play to another level for the playoffs.

    The only problem for him was that unlike DJ, he didn't land himself on a mythical team like the Boston Celtics. Gus played most of his career in Seattle and finished it out in Washington.

  27. ScottR. Says:

    The 80s Celtics as underachievers?! Well, lets see. From 80-81 to 86-87 they were in the NBA Finals 5 times in 7 years, winning three. With their true "4 HOFer line up" which ran from 83-84 to 87-88, they were in Finals 4 times in 5 years, winning two; beaten, of course, by an equally talented Laker squad with three legitimate HOFers, and two of the greatest players ever in Magic and Kareem.

    I guess you could say they should have one more than just two championships with 4 HOFers in the lineup--and I'd agree accept for the fact the Lakers were an equally worthy adversary.

  28. sp6r=underrated Says:

    Why don't you actually address my argument and explain why their RS point differential totals was so low for a team with 4 HOF?


    Nice response.

  29. Sean Says:

    Because, frankly, the SRS point differential totals are irrelevant. Four straight championship appearances, two titles: those stats are far more meaningful to me than SRS.
    And by the way, the Celtics had the best SRS ratings in '84, '86, and '88 (they were essentially tied for second in '85 and were third in '87).

    If we're going by your logic, then the Lakers in '04 truly didn't have four legit Hall of Famers. I mean, they didn't win the championship and were ranked 7th in SRS. There's absolutely no way Shaq, Kobe, Payton, and Malone could all be Hall of Famers if that team didn't absolutely crush the league, right?

    Basketball isn't baseball. Not everything is quantifiable. Advanced stats are awesome, but they don't tell the whole story.

  30. Sean Says:

    I don't mean to keep harping on SRS, because I do think it's a valuable form of evaluating a team. But if we're going to judge the Celtics of the 80's by that measure, then I think it's only fair to do the same for the Lakers.

    1983: 4 Hall of Famers, 5.06 SRS (3rd in the league)
    1984: 4 Hall of Famers, 3.32 SRS (5th in the league)
    1985: 4 Hall of Famers, 6.48 SRS (2nd in the league)
    1986: 3 Hall of Famers, 6.84 SRS (3rd in the league)
    1987: 3 Hall of Famers, 8.32 SRS (1st in the league)
    1988: 3 Hall of Famers, 4.81 SRS (3rd in the league)
    1989: 3 Hall of Famers, 6.38 SRS (3rd in the league)

    Gee, I'm beginning to think there's no direct correlation between the number of Hall of Famers on a team and said team's SRS rating.

  31. sp6r=underrated Says:

    Lakers 04: two of the members, Malone and Payton got in primarily for their contributions elsewhere. Not the case with the mid 80s celtics, who have 4 people being inducted primarily for their role on those teams.
    Showtime: from 83-85, their 4th HOF WAS Mac who got in primarily for his MVP years in the 70s. Worthy is as much a joke as DJ's induction was

  32. MikeN Says:

    The Celtics were notorious for getting bored in games. In one game Bird took all his shots left-handed.

  33. MikeN Says:

    Against good teams, they were 18-2.

  34. BobDD Says:

    It might be 50/50 from posters, but readers not from Boston know this is nothing but a payoff to the Celtic Mafia.

    Where do you turn off the sarc button? No, no, I meant the honesty button.