40-year-old Joe Johnson thankful for NBA return in Celtics: “It’s still surreal to me”

Photo: Winslow Townson/Associated Press

40-year-old Joe Johnson thankful for NBA return: “It’s still surreal to me”

Joe Johnson has mixed emotions upon returning to the NBA.

After a four-year absence, the feelings are unreal for the 40-year-old. But more importantly, he is thankful for the opportunity.

“It’s amazing to be back here 20 years later,” Johnson said. “It’s still surreal to me.”

It was in the Boston Celtics that Johnson had the usual humble beginnings. After being selected as the 10th overall in the 2001 NBA draft, he blazed into one of the most spectacular scorers in league history with an incredible shot making, unparalleled isolation schemes, and cold-blooded wonders — living beyond the infamous nickname “Iso Joe.”

Johnson, a seven-time All-star and an All-NBA Third team member in 2010, always deems his fundamentals in playing competitive basketball. Despite sitting in an age being classified as twilight amongst the players, he still won’t be stopped in showing his love for the game.

“I wouldn’t say give up, but I didn’t have high hopes,” Johnson said. “My son’s 14, so he keeps me in the gym. We work and work and work, and I always talk to him [and say], ‘Just work. Even when you can’t see what’s next, you just gotta continue to work.’”

He is only one of those aspirants who gained a chance to suit up an NBA uniform again. As the door opens after several teams have seen roster depletion due to COVID-19 protocols, Johnson is determined to grab his chances by any means necessary.

After being cut by the Detroit Pistons in 2019, Johnson wasn’t convinced yet to hang up his shoes. Instead, he suited up in the BIG3, a prestigious 3-on-3 basketball league. As such, his streetball style of play and scoring prowess gave him back-to-back MVP honors and a coveted title upon leading the Triplets in the championship round. In February, he even played under the flag of the United States in the FIBA AmeriCup.

It was on Tuesday that Johnson received a call from his agent, Jeff Schwartz, that he is being eyed by the Celtics for a nod. After several moments, he received the notice and took a trip to Bean town.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Johnson said. “I’m a guy who really takes care of his body. I’m in pretty good shape. So I felt like I was ready to take on that challenge.

“So [my agent] asked me what I thought, and we just kept moving. I’m ready for whatever comes my way.”

Indeed, after a thunderous crowd delivered a “We want Joe” chants in Celtics’ garbage minutes against the losing Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, Johnson was inserted by head coach Ime Udoka — sparking a huge roar.

Johnson, in the dying moments of the match, used a screen from teammate Bruno Fernando and nailed a highly-contested elbow jumper from the outstretched arms of forward Justin Anderson which made the Boston supporters cheer loudly. The two-point bucket was just a reminiscence of what he used to do during his heyday.

“This is a pick-and-roll league,” Johnson said. “Once you can master the pick-and-roll and get to your spots — especially your sweet spots — it’s hard to stop guys like that. Especially when you can make plays out of that. I never lose sight of that, or lost sight of that. Just from watching the game, I see how they play in the pick-and-roll. If I’m in the pick-and-roll, you either gotta live or you’re going to have the midrange game or the floater.

“Luckily,” he added, “it went down.”

Johnson, an appreciative hooper, is just living on the moment after another opportunity knocked into his room. Regardless of where the 10-day contract will go through, he will always strive to contribute while enjoying every second of NBA basketball.

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