by Lang Whitaker

While the Atlanta Hawks were my favorite team when I was growing up, my favorite non-Hawks player was Kevin Johnson. I can’t trace it, can’t really explain it, but somehow I started following and rooting for KJ and the Phoenix Suns. Before long the Suns acquired Charles Barkley, and I was in full-blast. I bought a KJ jersey, ordered a KJ poster for my room and even got his autograph once when the Suns were in Atlanta. When my high school coach handed out practice jerseys and produced one with the number 7 on it, I snatched it so I could pretend to be KJ. Even now, a couple of my computer passwords are plays on KJ’s name and number — I can’t speak for you guys, but it’s impossible for me to erase those old memories and connections.

If you never watched KJ play, you missed out. He was fast as heck, could drive past anyone, drill the jumpers from midrange out to the three point line, set up his teammates and handled the ball like it was on a string. Think Chris Paul before Chris Paul. As a kid who was trying desperately to play the point, I knew KJ was a player I should be emulating. Or at least, trying to emulate.

Of course, no matter what I tried, I could never boom one on Hakeem Olajuwon like KJ did.

Thing is, he was brilliant as a person, too. While he was playing, he was always being mentioned for his charity work and his involvement in the community in Phoenix and his hometown of Sacramento. And there was a Sports Illustrated feature on him that talked about how he would correct referees, even when they missed a call that benefitted him or the Suns.

Anyway, earlier this week it was announced that St. Hope Public Schools, a Sacramento-based company founded by Johnson to help establish and improve schools in Sacto, was getting involved in New York City. They’ll be taking charge at The Choir Academy of Harlem, the troubled school that is tied to the famed Boys Choir of Harlem.

So many of the old school guys we’ve linked to lately are guys with serious personal issues or legal problems. It’s great to see a guy in the news because he’s trying to help other people.

And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see that the guy we’re talking about who is trying to help others is Kevin Johnson. Still.