Friday, February 23, 2007

Dennis Johnson dead at 52

Dennis Johnson, the star NBA guard who was part of three championship teams and combined with Larry Bird in one of the great postseason plays, died Thursday after collapsing at the end of practice while coaching an NBA developmental team. He was 52.

Johnson, coach of the Austin Toros, was unconscious and in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived at Austin Convention Center, said Warren Hassinger, spokesman for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.

Paramedics tried to resuscitate him for 23 minutes before he was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, Hassinger added. Mayra Freeman, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, said there will be an autopsy.

The Toros postponed home games Friday and Saturday nights, the NBA Development League said.

Johnson, a five-time NBA All-Star and one of the league's top defensive guards, was part of the last Boston Celtics dynasty. He spent 14 seasons in the league and retired after the 1989-90 season. He played on title teams with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986 and with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979, when he was MVP of the NBA Finals.

"Whether he was leading his teams to NBA championships or teaching young men the meaning of professionalism, Dennis Johnson's contributions to the game went far beyond the basketball court," said NBA commissioner David Stern. "Dennis was a man of extraordinary character with a tremendous passion for the game."

Johnson was a favorite teammate of Bird's, and the two were part of one of the most memorable plays in Celtics history.

During the fifth game of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, Bird stole Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass under Boston's basket and fed Johnson, who drove in for the winning layup. Boston won the series in seven games but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

"Dennis was a great player, one of the best teammates I ever had, and a wonderful person," said Bird, now president of the Indiana Pacers. "My thoughts and condolences are with his family at this difficult time."

Bill Laimbeer, the center on that Pistons team, remembered Johnson as a "great player on a great ballclub."
"He played with passion and grit," Laimbeer said. "It was fun to play games like that. You always enjoyed it. It made for not only great games but great entertainment."

In the 1984 Finals, Johnson guarded Magic Johnson effectively in the last four games. In 1985, he hit a last-second jumper against Los Angeles which won the fourth game. In 1986, he was part of a team that featured four Hall of Famers — Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton.

Johnson had a reputation for delivering in big games.

"I hate to lose," he once said. "I accept it when it comes, but I still hate it. That's the way I am."

He averaged 14.1 points and 5.0 assists for his career. When he retired, he was the 11th player in NBA history to total 15,000 points and 5,000 assists. Johnson made one all-NBA first team and one second team. Six times he made the all-defensive first team, including five consecutive seasons (1979-83).

Johnson was born Sept. 18, 1954, in Compton, Calif. He played in college at Pepperdine and was drafted by Seattle in 1976. Johnson was traded to Phoenix in 1980 and Boston in 1983.

New Steelers coach buys home in Shadyside

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike Tomlin has accomplished something in his first month on the job as Steelers coach that his two Super Bowl-winning predecessors did not in their combined 38 years with the team: He bought a house in the city of Pittsburgh.

Tomlin, his wife and three young children will move in soon. He may be the first Steelers coach to live in the city in more than 50 years, according to Dan Rooney. Walt Kiseling, who last coached the team in 1956, was probably the last one to live in the city, said Rooney, the club's chairman and former president.

"There are lot of things to do in the city," said Rooney, who moved with his wife, Patricia, back into his late father's house on the North Side years ago from Upper St. Clair. "It's a good place. They usually clean the streets of snow in the city, and where he is going to live is pretty good."

As Mayor Luke Ravenstahl tries to convince families and young professionals to live in the city, he has a high-profile new resident to hold up as an example. Mike and Kiya Tomlin bought a large house in Shadyside and the young coach said he plans to live there for as long as the Steelers employ him.

In that sense, he's no different from the two coaches who preceded him, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher. Each bought a house for their families when they were hired and lived in it until they left the Steelers. But neither lived in the city. Noll lived in Upper St. Clair in the same house for all 23 years on the job, and Cowher lived in the same house in Fox Chapel for his 15 years with the Steelers.

Tomlin will become the first head coach of the Steelers to pay Pittsburgh city taxes in a long time. His new home in Shadyside is old, roomy and has a good back yard for his children -- two boys ages 6 and 5 and a daughter, 9 months -- Tomlin said.

"I'm a guy who likes to get out and do things with my family," said Tomlin, 34 and the second-youngest head coach of any of the four major pro sports leagues. "We're close to a lot of the activities and things. It's a great place, close to work -- all of the above. Just the diversity the city gives us as a family is important to us."
Tomlin's move into the city not only is unusual for a Steelers coach, but it's also rare even for players. Most live in the suburbs north of the city, although some live on the South Side, where the Steelers UPMC training facility is 7 years old.

The city has lost residents for decades, and officials have tried to find ways to lure occupants to downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.

"I think that's great news," Ravenstahl said upon learning of the move, "and I think it is indicative of the trend, and ideally the continued trend for young professionals and people to move into the city of Pittsburgh, and it's great to have coach Tomlin as one of those folks."

Ravenstahl has proposed a possible tax abatement for downtown residents and those in 20 other city neighborhoods. Although Shadyside is not one of them, having the first Steelers coach and his family on the tax rolls is considered at least good public relations for the city.

"We're really excited," said Ravenstahl, who has not yet met Tomlin.

Tomlin said city fathers can use his move to Shadyside as an example, if they'd like.

"If it's something that works as a positive for what they're trying to get done, great. But it was just a personal decision for my family. I think it's the best thing for us and we're excited about it."

Tomlin was born in Hampton, Va., and went to school in Newport News.

"I'm kind of an urban kid myself, born and raised. My wife's from North Jersey. That's probably our comfort zone."