“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” ~ Lao Tzu

Thus is the plight of former Suns point guard Kevin Johnson.

Despite having one of the best careers a point guard has ever had in the NBA, the fact that he burned brighter but for a shorter period of time has, in my opinion, hurt the former all-star in his pursuit of enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

I’m usually not a fan of numbers — mostly because the largest one in my life is the one that appears when I step on a scale — but the best way to paint the picture of the man who made the No. 7 Suns jersey iconic is to look at the numbers compared to the contemporaries of his era.

During a seven-year period of Johnson’s career, from 1988 to 1997, that excluded his rookie year and his final full season in the league, he averaged 19.8 points, 10.1 assists 1.6 steals and 3.4 rebounds a game. Those are numbers at or better than the career averages of what is considered the two greatest point guards ever, Magic Johnson (19.2 points, 11.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 7.1 rebounds) and John Stockton (13.1 points, 10.5 assists, 2.2 steals and 2.7 rebounds).

The reason he’s not held in the same regard as those two players? Injuries.

Magic’s career lasted 13 years while Stockton’s lasted 19 seasons. KJ’s career lasted 13 full seasons, but the problem was, he only played in 69 percent of games he possibly could have due to various injuries (many of which involved his hamstrings). By comparison, Magic played in 88 percent of his games and Stockton played in an astonishing 99 percent of games.

While KJ would never be considered for the NBA’s career iron man award — not that they actually giveaway such a ridiculous award — his bright career prime proved that he is worthy of being considered among the best.

The most disconcerting part of it all, for me and fans like me, are the point guards who made the list of Hall of Fame finalists on Friday over Johnson.

While Tim Hardaway and Gary Payton were fine players in their own right, they didn’t have as great a career as KJ during the same generation based on numbers. Payton only averaged 16.3 points, 6.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 3.8 rebounds per game. Tim Hardaway was slightly better with 17.7 points, 8.2. assists, 1.6 steals and 3.3 rebounds.

Neither of which are better than KJ’s career 17.9 points, 9.1 assists 1.5 steals and 3.3 rebounds. The difference once again? Longevity. Hardaway played 17 seasons and Payton lasted 19 seasons.

So the question becomes, is it better to hang around as long as possible and get diminishing returns or only stick around until you know you aren’t performing at the top level?

It appears, at least to the committee that votes for the Basketball Hall of Fame, the prior carries more weight than the latter.

Johnson never chased a ring, only wore two uniforms in his career (and was a member of the Suns for all but 52 games his rookie season), accumulated impressive numbers and left the game while still close to the top, long before he had to. Something should be said for a player’s loyalty and for having the internal awareness to get out before father time caught up to him.

Maybe the Hall of Fame will eventually agree that burning bright and fast is just as good, if not better than burning slightly less bright for a prolonged period of time.

About Greg Esposito

Hi, my name is Greg Esposito, my friends call me Espo and I’m a Phoenix Suns-aholic. I also happen to be the team's Social Media Specialist as well as one of the online content creators. You'll find my sarcastic musings here on Blog.Suns.com as the Suns Retorter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jtokoph Joe Tokoph

    The hall of fame is a joke, its a popularity contest not a true determination of the best players. Like everything else in this world, its all a scam. Sorry KJ your the best in the Phoenix Suns fans eyes!

    • http://www.thegraphicmac.com/ JimD

      Great… but Nash was by far the best Phoenix PG.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jtokoph Joe Tokoph

        Nash never took the Suns to the Finals.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dennis-Tresca/100000363953636 Dennis Tresca

          KJ is my favorite all-time player, but that’s an unfair argument. Nash never had Barkley…

          • http://www.facebook.com/josephcherrera Joseph C Herrera

            Nash had Stoudemire, Marion, Joe Johnson!

          • http://www.facebook.com/richard.r.ross Richard R Ross

            Yes, and don’t forget.. Nash WOULD have taken the Suns to a championship if not for the sleazy play of those Spurs and the cowardly hack-a-Shaq.

          • Ha-derp.

            KJ had Barkley, Thunder Dan, Mark West and Tom Chambers.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Smith/100004127531754 Ben Smith

            Nash had Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, though.

          • http://www.facebook.com/alex.estrada.942 Alex Estrada

            once again showing that you dont know what your saying! sure nash didnt have barkley but he had amare shawn marion to help him.

        • http://www.thegraphicmac.com/ JimD

          KJ had little to do with the Suns going to the Finals

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Smith/100004127531754 Ben Smith

            JimD, you don’t know what you’re talking about at all. The Suns would not have won a playoff game without Kevin Johnson that season and Charles Barkley would have gone down as perhaps the greatest MVP fraud in history.

          • http://www.facebook.com/alex.estrada.942 Alex Estrada

            ARE YOU SERIOUS. SORRY MAN YOU DONT KNOW YOUR BASKETBALL! YOU SHOUL BE ASHAMED TO CALL YOUR SELF A KJ FAN!

        • http://www.facebook.com/alex.estrada.942 Alex Estrada

          NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Smith/100004127531754 Ben Smith

        Kevin Johnson and Steve Nash provided similar value offensively, but K.J. was much better defensively and did not need Mike D’Antoni’s offense to be historically elite.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alex.estrada.942 Alex Estrada

      IM WITH YOU JOE!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Smith/100004127531754 Ben Smith

    You’re right, Greg, and by the way, Hardaway only played in 132 more games than K.J., anyway. Just because he hung around longer while he was past his prime shouldn’t make him a more worthy Hall of Fame candidate.

    Also, in 623 career starts, Kevin Johnson averaged 19.7 points, 10.0 assists, and a .496 field goal percentage. After Magic Johnson, what true point guard posted better numbers as a starter?

  • David

    KJ consistently led his (not always great) team to the playoffs, played in 50 more playoff games than Tim Hardaway despite playing several fewer seasons, and has FAR better playoff stats than Tim. He also burned Stockton head-to-head. Unlike Payton (who had Kemp), Stockton (who had Malone), and Tim (who had Richmond and Mullin), KJ, did not play with 1st Team All-NBA Players as much as they did (with the exception of a few Barkley years). He is definitely the best player not in the Hall of Fame, and this injustice should be remedied immediately!

    Kevin Johnson was so good that Rob $aver would have probably traded or waived him (a badge of honor), and likely didn’t campaign for him as he should have…

  • Quin McQuarrie

    One thing not mentioned was KJ’s style of play. If the NBA kept a stat for picking yourself up off of the court after being bounced around by big men in the key, Magic, Stockton and Nash wouldn’t even be in the picture. This had as much to do with his longevity than anything else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.faulkner.146 Brian Faulkner

    I was lucky enough to see almost ever game K J ever played. He is my favorite player of all time, and he is the greatest Suns player ever. He destroyed every other point guard he ever played against . The only reason he is not in the HOF is because of lack of national coverage he got. If he played in a bigger market or had a longer career he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer

  • http://www.facebook.com/josephcherrera Joseph C Herrera

    KJ was legit! He was notorious for converting the 3 point play!

    • http://www.facebook.com/alex.estrada.942 Alex Estrada

      not to mention his incredible dunking ability! he poterized many players one of the most notable ones, when he poterized hakim alijowon! sorry for the misspelling!

  • larry phillips

    They should let the fans vote the players in

  • larry phillips

    What the phoenx suns need to do is spend a little money and get some player that could helo themreach the fianls and win it all its a little hard to take but the girls have done two times now that’s a slap in the face for the guys

  • Del Mar Dial

    By pure stats Gary Payton was best all round player.

    Only player in NBA history to accumulate 20,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 8,000 assists and 2,000 steals in a career.

    Now do I believe that? NO! So stats only go so far.

    KJ was an awesome player and sad to see him get snubbed. I also believe the more you play the worse your stats are year to year. Generally speaking….