by Jake Appleman
You know how when you were a kid you would dream of finding that special drink/liquid formula that would turn you into a superhuman basketball player? As a child, I always found it annoying that I could only dunk on Brad Lohaus in my dreams. Though tasty, Gatorade only asked if you “it” was in you. The liquid lightening bolt never gave “it” to you directly, which seemed like the right marketing strategy because nobody knew “it” existed. Well, now we know better.
Anthony Johnson, please pass the Kool-Aid.
Johnson, whose diminutive stature was an accurate representation of his career’s magnitude — at least up until the past few weeks — now finds himself swimming some sort of special sauce. The Pacers just got eliminated, but I don’t care. I want some. The veteran point god has had more NBA career stops than a groupie with an excess of frequent flyer miles, but his recent transformation has put that chapter of his career firmly to rest.
In his dazzling 40 point performance last night, the guy who looks more suited for marketing Keeblers than Wheaties made nearly every shot he took, put up a wide variety of shots, kept the Pacers in the game until the bitter end, and, most impressively, out-played his former mentor, Jason Kidd. After the loss, Kidd ran over to AJ and wouldn’t stop congratulating him, like a proud father who saw his son finally reach his potential. I was always impressed with AJ’s efficiency during his brief spells on the floor in Jersey, but the type of offensive confidence he developed in Indiana during this series was simply astounding. The argument that Johnson was forced into carrying the load due to injuries carries some weight, but as the point guard, it was still his decision to take it upon himself to carry the brunt of the Game Six scoring load, not to mention increasing his shots without hurting his selection during the rest of the series.
Bill Raftery, doing the game for NBA TV, could not stop talking about how tired Johnson appeared to be. During the 4th quarter, the camera seemed fixated on Johnson’s fatigue. But he didn’t stop. Just like he didn’t stop after leaving New Jersey. Or Sacremento, Atlanta, Cleveland and Orlando, for that matter. The panting and all-encompassing expression of exhaustion on Johnson’s face only illustrates that there is no magic beverage that helped him raise his game to new heights. Just desire, hard work, an underrated first step, and an overlooked jumper.
After the game, Kidd said, “He texted me before the series and said this was going to be Ali-Frazier. I guess he was Ali.”
That’s no lie.