BOSTON — Joe Johnson knew there was always a chance he could get back into the NBA, especially with the recent increase of COVID-19 cases.
It happened Wednesday when the The Boston Celtics signed the 40-year-old Johnson to a 10-day contract before their 111-101 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The crowd chanted “We Want Joe! “We Want Joe!”” and broke into a loud cheer when he got off the bench and came into the game. He got a huge ovation when he hit a fallaway jumper in the final minute.
“It is kind of surreal,” Johnson said. “To come into the game and be somewhat effective, that’s fun. At my age you try to relish every moment, enjoy the process and live in the moment. That’s kind of what I’m doing right now, living in the moment and it’s fun.”
Johnson knows people will first talk about his age when they see he’s back in the league for the first time since 2018.
“I don’t look at my age and say, `I can’t play with these guys,'” Johnson said before the game. “I know it’s a young man’s game, but at the same time, like I said, I pay a lot of attention to my body.”
Johnson started his NBA career with Boston when he was drafted 10th overall in 2001. The seven-time All-Star played 1,276 regular-season games through the 2017-18 season, averaging 16.0 points with the Celtics, Phoenix, Atlanta, Brooklyn, Miami, Utah and Houston.
To stay in shape, Johnson said he’s been working out in the gym with his 14-year-old son.
“I wouldn’t say ‘give up,’ but I didn’t have high hopes,” Johnson said his thoughts about getting another chance.
Now, he’s got an example for his son.
“I always talk to him about work, you can’t see what’s next,” he said.
Johnson was signed because Boston has seven players in the NBA’s COVID protocols.
“I think it is a different situation,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said about his added veteran presence “It’s a guy that all looked up to at some point. Jayson (Tatum) specifically started smiling and said: ‘That was one of my favorite players growing up.”‘
Johnson found out from his agent when he was out celebrating his daughter’s eighth birthday.
“When my agent called me yesterday and said this was on the table, it was a no-brainer for me.” he said. “I’m a guy that takes care of my body and I’m in pretty good shape. I felt like I was ready to take on that challenge.”
Story by Ken Powtak