Against the Seattle Supersonics -- Basketball Reference calls them "Oklahoma City," but we know better -- Kevin Johnson averaged 15.8 points and 8.3 assists per contest. Johnson's teams finished with 27 wins against 18 losses during the regular season, a .600 winning percentage (Johnson's Suns and the Sonics split two playoff series and 12 postseason games in '93 and '97).
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On Monday, KJ pulled out a victory over Seattle (indirectly, but Emerald City residents were certainly paying attention) that in certain respects had to have been almost as painful as when the Suns beat the Sonics in Game 7 of the 1993 Western Conference Finals (a game where the Suns and Sonics combined for 100 free throw attempts, with Phoenix taking 64). Ever comfortable speaking the language of hoops, Johnson reacted to his latest buzzer-beater in the same way he did whenever he was triumphant on the court.
"Today is a new day for Sacramento and a defining moment for our community," Johnson said. "We came to Orlando needing to convert both ends of a one-and-one free throw. Over the weekend, the city hit the front end of the free throw by making clear it had delivered on its promises and, today, the Maloof family hit the second free throw by stepping up and increasing their contribution."
The Maloofs will pitch in $75 million upfront and the city will be responsible for anywhere from $200 to $250 million, according to the Sacramento Bee. Does the deal -- if the city council approves -- represent one of the finest moments in the history of California's capital, or something that will cause long-term financial damage to the city?
By the time we find out, KJ may be where at least one Sactown Royalty commenter predicted: in the White House. That's clearly a longshot, but so was keeping the Kings in Sac ... and Kings fans are pushing Johnson's approval rating higher than he used to leap in his prime.
On Monday Johnson looked like he (and the Maloofs, to be fair) accomplished what was unthinkable less than a year ago, when the Kings looked to be headed to Anaheim. Seattle grew optimistic this season, as talks -- which included David Stern -- seemed to be stalling during meetings that signified the most interesting part of All-Star Weekend. In the end, Johnson and Maloof sealed an emotional pact.
Jason Kidd overshadowed Johnson as far as Cal point guards go, but KJ did the unthinkable in Berkeley as well -- taking the Bears to their first postseason appearances (two NIT berths) in 26 years. He was drafted 7th overall in 1987, and went on to have one of the best rarely-talked-about careers in NBA history. Johnson's career PER was 20.7, in part because he shot 49.3% from the field over 13 seasons. Johnson also averaged 9.6 assists per 36 minutes over his career. There was also that one dunk over Hakeem Olajuwon...
It's hard to convey how shocking Johnson's posterization of Hakeem (I can say that, because people actually bought and hung posters back then) was at the time. Olajuwon was a frightening presence who made David Robinson look like Erick Dampier in a postseason series after Robinson won the regular season MVP, and Olajuwon was at the height of his powers when Johnson dunked on him.
Then again, some people are partial to this slice of "elevation sensation" (thank you, Tim Roye) over Mark Eaton, which is understandable...
Neither dunk seemed at all possible until after they had occurred. Considering the cities lying in wait both north and south of Sacramento, the Kings' ownership situation and a climate in California that makes publicly funded sporting facilities (usually) an impossiblity, Johnson reached similar heights in Orlando. It'll be fascinating to see what Monday's news means for the Kings, and Johnson. The days of Johnson being underrated may be over.
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