News of Dennis Johnson’s death was as sad as it was shocking.

Dennis Johnson (1954-202007)

Not only was he a great player to watch, but great to be around. During his three years with the Suns he was a go-to guy for quotes as well as points.

He arrived here in a controversial trade that sent Paul Westphal to Seattle, and departed in an even more controversial trade that sent him to Boston along with first and third round picks in exchange for Rick Robey and two second round picks.

He missed only five regular season games in his three years as a Sun, while averaging 17.5 points a game, and totaled 204 points in 17 playoff games.

Before coming here he guided the Sonics to their only NBA title in 1979. And after leaving here he helped the Celtics win their last two.

He was a tremendous defensive player and demon rebounder. And beyond that he had to be the best 6-4 shot blocker in the history of professional basketball.

In the Sonics’ title run he blocked an astonishing 26 shots in 17 games and had 28 steals while averaging 20.9 points and 6.1 rebounds. And while he was no more than a so-so shooter in the first three periods, he was an outstanding one in the fourth period, and a deadly one in the last two minutes. He was one of those rare players (and trust me, they are a lot rarer than you think) who really wanted to take that you make you win you miss you lose last shot.

So basically what you had in D.J. was a player whose combination of skills made him unique in the literal sense of the word.

That’s why as a member of the panel that selected the top 50 players of all time I had him among my 50. He didn’t quite make it, but I still think he should have.

Mind you, I didn’t say he was a perfect player. Just unique. In truth, he was an engaging eccentric whose eccentricities didn’t always endear him to teammates, and endeared him even less to his coaches, especially in practices.

In fact, in a crucial early round game in ’79 that the Sonics seemed on the verge of losing teammate Paul Silas found it necessary to refocus Dennis’s attention with a sharp verbal elbow to the ribs. But once refocused, Dennis calmly proceeded to drill home the winning shot.

The bottom line on Dennis Johnson: If you could somehow add him in his prime to this year’s Suns you could start engraving the trophy and designing the rings right now.

That’s how good he was. And how much he will be missed.

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