AUSTIN, Tx – Dennis Johnson, the star NBA guard who was part of three championship teams, died Thursday after collapsing at the end of practice. He was 52.
Johnson, coach of the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League, died at a hospital, D-League spokesman Kent Partridge said. Mayra Freeman, a spokeswoman for the Travis County medical examiner's office, said there will be autopsy.
Johnson, a five-time All-Star and one of the great defensive guards, played 14 seasons and retired after the 1989-90 season. He played on title teams with the Boston Celtics in 1984 and 1986 and with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979 when he was the NBA finals MVP.
Johnson, a leader on the court, was a favorite teammate of Larry Bird. The two combined on 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."
In 1984 finals, Johnson guarded Magic Johnson effectively in the last four games. In 1985, he hit a last-second jumper against Los Angeles that won the fifth game. In 1986, he was part of a team that featured four Hall of Famers — Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton.
Johnson was a tough player with 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. 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.