For video of "A Night of Legends," click here
10 questions for ... Eddie Johnson
One of the finest shooters in Illinois history is headed back to campus. On Feb. 8 when the Illini host Purdue, the school will raise Johnson's jersey to the Assembly Hall rafters, and the 49-year-old can't wait for the ceremony. "Definitely, I'll have chills." Sports editor JIM ROSSOW caught up with the former NBA star and current NBA broadcaster (Suns) and blogger (HoopsHype.com) on Thursday to discuss one of the most famous shots in Illinois history, his hometown Arizona Cardinals and the chances of landing an NBA coaching job.
This month marks the 30th anniversary of your buzzer-beater that beat Magic Johnson and eventual champion Michigan State at the Assembly Hall.
Wow. It's been 30 years since that shot? I would say once a month someone brings it up to me because there are a lot of Illinois people here in Phoenix.
Ever get sick of talking about it?
Not really. But a lot of people remember me for that shot more so than me leaving Illinois as the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, so that gets a stir out of me sometimes. People remember you for the things that stick in their mind, and that was the shot. It's a positive, so I'm OK with it.
You missed the "Night of Legends" in September where most of the jerseys were raised to the rafters.
I watched it all on the Big Ten Network. I was thinking I wanted to be there, that I was missing out on a part of history. Of course I wanted to go back. Those were the best years of my life.
How many points would you have scored in the alumni game?
I would have got my number, it just wouldn't have come at a high rate of speed. The only guy on the floor that night who could have checked me was Kenny Battle, and he didn't play.
How about Deron Williams?
Deron's a mouse. He's 6-2, 6-3, maybe I'll give him 6-4. He's a mouse in the house. I wouldn't have been worried about him.
Does Deron deserve to be an All-Star?
He's definitely an All-Star but his injury probably is going to cost him this year. But he doesn't worry about that. He's a stable, level-headed young man who shows respect. There's not been one time where he hasn't gone out of his way to come over and speak to me, and as a former player that's all you want: for the younger guys to show respect. That's all. When I was young, if I saw Dr. J or Moses Malone or Larry Bird, I went out of my way to speak to them. Deron understands that.
Lou Henson still isn't in the Hall of Fame.
It's a travesty he's not. He's one of the best coaches ever. There's a lot to Lou Henson that people don't equate to. A lot of times it's just the record or how many championships and things like that, which is fine. But when you coach as long as he did and show the consistency he did and the ability to go in and recruit and get the players to the next level, those are the most important things. He put a lot of players in the NBA; I wouldn't have got there if it wasn't for him. He's the best coach from college on down that I ever had, and he's eye-to-eye with Cotton Fitzsimmons as the best coach I ever had.
You applied for the Suns job last offseason. Still want to coach in the NBA?
The pattern I've taken is not the normal one, and that cost me a little bit. After playing for 18 years, I said I would not leave my (two) kids until they got through high school. It's not something I'm chasing relentlessly, but if the right opportunity came about I'd take a look. Teams can look at it two ways: They can look at what I've done and the knowledge I've gained through calling (NBA) games on TV, or they can say I don't have enough experience because I didn't go the assistant coach route. One day, someone's going to say, 'I don't care about experience' and hire me. That's what I'm banking on.
Your son, Justin, is a redshirt freshman at Fresno State. Can he take you?
Basketball is a young man's game, so no I can't beat him anymore. I abused him for so many years, it's about time. He's 6-7 and too quick for me.
How about those Cardinals?
I wrote a column about how all of us have a first love but we always have an eye on somebody else. The Bears are my first love, growing up in Chicago. I will never leave the Bears but I love watching the Cardinals. It's amazing what's happened to them. I went to the NFC championship game, got there at 9 a.m. to start tailgating. It was the most amazing thing I've ever been a part of.