Amir Johnson was selected 56th in the 2005 draft – fifth from the last pick – by the Detroit Pistons. He played at Westchester HS in Los Angeles, arguably the best high school basketball program in California (unarguably, one of the top five), both in wins and production of NBA players. He was originally signed by Louisville. Based on his recent actions, it’s questionable if he would have qualified academically.
Prior to the 2006 draft, the NBA instituted a rule that requires American players to be at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class to be eligible so barring still another rule change (who knows, maybe Adam Silver wants to put his footprint on the league once he takes over for David Stern), Johnson will be the last-ever high school player drafted. Then-Pistons head coach Larry Brown thought that, eventually, Johnson could be an impact player. After Monday night, he’s got a way to go – just to prove he’s mentally fit to play at all.
Johnson’s been traded twice, both coming in 2009. Detroit traded him to Milwaukee who, two months later (before ever issuing him a uniform), traded him to Toronto. He played in all 82 games (starting 5), shooting 62.3% from the floor and 63.8% from the line, averaging 6.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and .8 blocks in less than 18 minutes a game. As (too) often occurs in the NBA, he then signed a 5 year, $34 million contract with the Raptors on the first day of free agency (an oxymoron if there ever was one).
While he makes big boy money, he displayed the temperament of a child Monday night in Portland where the Raptors were beaten 94-72. After a made Portland free throw, referee David Jones retrieved the ball. While he was holding it, Johnson reached over and grabbed the ball. While it was a classic “jump ball,” anytime it’s between a referee and a player, the unwritten rule is “ref ball.” Unwritten because it’s never happened! An altercation between ref and player ensued. Jones didn’t appreciate Johnson’s effort and let go to “T” him up. Amir must have reached into his vocab book for a choice one because Jones turned and gave him the heave-ho sign.
Johnson absolutely freaked! Teammates had to restrain him from Jones who was wisely heading in the opposite direction. Johnson then did exactly what a spoiled child would have done in this situation. He threw his mouthpiece at the authority official. To prove he’s got game, the mouthpiece hit Jones squarely in the back. The NBA suspended him one game without pay. I wonder if anyone has put into perspective to him how much that tirade cost him – in terms of what that money actually means – especially when his career ends. Even if it’s 15 years from now (when he’s 40). And people who act like he did last night never last until they’re forty.
Amir Johnson has made in excess of $45 million since he’s been in the league. Early in his career, he spent a couple stints in the D-league. Although he played well there, that’s not exactly the blueprint for a superstar’s career. His actions in Portland can only be explained by the quote:
“The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.”