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DJ, RIP

Dennis Johnson died yesterday of a heart attack at 52 years young. Most people remember Dennis as a freckle-faced veteran guard for the Boston Celtics who spent seven years playing alongside Bird, McHale and Ainge during their dominant run in the eighties. To give you an idea of the kind of player DJ was, all you have to know is that Larry Bird once called him "the best teammate I've ever played with."

Those of us who grew up in Seattle, however, remember Johnson as a fresh-faced rookie drafted out of Pepperdine by the Sonics in 1976 who became an integral part of the one (and still only) world championship in Seattle sports history.

I turned 10 the year the Sonics won the NBA Finals (DJ was named MVP, by the way), and I can still name almost every member of the team from memory. Somewhere, stuffed inside a box of memorabilia from my younger days, I have a picture of the '79 Sonics that I kept on my bedroom wall for years, along with trading cards of all the players.

There's one other thing in there, too. The year after the Sonics won the NBA Championship my dad, who was a pilot, arrived at a hotel in Boston for a layover. Sitting there in the lobby was Dennis Johnson and a teammate who were in town to play the Celtics. And so, ironically enough, in the entire universe of celebrities and sports heroes, DJ is among the very tiny group of people whose autographs I have in my possession; his name scrawled in pencil across a torn gray envelope bearing the United Airlines logo.

Rest in peace, DJ. You may have retired a Celtic, but you'll always be a Sonic to me.