The last time I left Austin for NYC, the NBDL’s Toros made headlines when their mascot kicked a member of the opposing team in the head. Yesterday, the Toros were part of a far bigger story with the sudden passing of head coach Dennis Johnson. Such was my own shock over the news of DJ’s death, that I scarcely acknowledged his Hall Of Fame caliber playing career, (5-time NBA All-Star, 2 rings with the Celtics, one with Seattle), nor his cup of coffee coaching the Clippers.
That said, I wasn’t alone in giving Johnson’s pre-Toros history short shrift. As the Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reily reveals, the following October 21, 1997 report from the Boston Globe escaped the notice of most media outlets yesterday.
According to the police report, which was obtained from Channel 4, Dwayne Johnson [Johnson's 17-year-old son] saw the argument as it escalated to the point that Dennis Johnson grabbed his wife in a choking manner with his left hand and held a knife in front of her face.
According to the report, Donna Johnson yelled, “What are you going to do, kill me? Go ahead.” Dennis Johnson replied, “You don’t think anybody will hit you?”
After a few moments, Johnson let his wife go but was still yelling and holding the knife, the report said. When Dwayne attempted to stop the argument, his father said, “Don’t you even, or I’ll knock you the [expletive] out.” Donna Johnson replied, “No you won’t. You won’t touch him.”
Dwayne Johnson told police he believed his father would hit him, so he ran to a neighbor’s house and asked her to call 911. He then returned to the house, saw the argument had died down, and called 911 himself.
The Herald’s Steve Bulpett doesn’t mention the knife incident in his obit or “appreciation“–even though he covered it for the Globe at the time, and later chronicled its impact on Johnson’s coaching career.
Over at the Globe, meanwhile, columnist Jackie MacMullan alludes to the incident but steers clear of ugly details: “DJ dreamed of being an NBA coach, but a messy domestic abuse incident involving his wife, Donna, hampered his efforts to earn a legitimate shot at such a job.” Shira Springer ignores it completely. So does AP, so does Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum, and so does ESPN’s Bill Simmons in an otherwise fantastic homage.
Johnson was an amazing player, and he may have been a good man who just made a terrible mistake ten years ago. But pretending the events of that day never happened–or eliding them as “messy”–is awfully tough to justify.