IN a country where it seemed he wasn't welcome, Ivan Johnson has found a home.
Fresh from leading Talk ‘N Text to the PBA Commissioner’s Cup title at the expense of Rain or Shine, the enigmatic Tropang Texters import thanked team management and his supporters for giving him a fresh start and for focusing on his basketball skills more than his past.
“Thank you for giving me a second chance. Now, I found a second home — Philippines,” the American cager said without elaborating in a short message relayed to TNT alternate governor and league chairman Pato Gregorio.
It was a surprising yet touching statement from Johnson, who has played for four colleges and 11 pro teams around the world — in the NBA, D-League, South Korea, Puerto Rico, and China - in a journeyman career.
There was no question about his talent, having lasted two seasons in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, even scoring 21 points once while making the post-season.
It was the 6-foot-8 forward’s attitude that appeared to have a problem and reduced him to a journeyman for most of his career.
Trouble dogged him in most places he went to.
He was slapped a lifetime ban from the Korean Basketball League after directing a middle-finger gesture at a referee in a championship series. Johnson also incurred hefty fines in the NBA, once by the Hawks for “conduct detrimental to the team” and another by the league for making a middle-finger sign anew at a Boston Celtics fan after the Hawks ouster from a playoff run.
It was only a matter of time for his antics to surface in the PBA and they were criticized none more than by Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao, who called him “mentally unstable” and a “menace” for his antics, saying “maybe that’s why he’s out of the NBA.”
Even Texters coach Jong Uichico admitted of his ward’s temperamental side.
“When he first came, nakita natin (yung temper) ‘di ba.”
“But after that, he’s been trying to keep his emotions in check,” the soft-spoken mentor was quick to add.
“It’s not fair kasi: we keep zeroing in on Ivan,” Uichico, usually laconic, continued. “Why don’t we zero in on something else? What instigated such? It’s not fair to Ivan.”
For Uichico, Johnson's performance on the court was all that mattered.
“I have no complaints about him,” Uichico said. “He works hard. He practices hard and he accepts coaching.”
Johnson averaged 27.9 points on 47.3 percent shooting, 13.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, two steals, and 0.8 block in 37.8 minutes in 16 games this midseason tournament, most importantly delivering in his promise to bring his team to the Promised Land.
And that is more than enough to warrant a comeback in the next edition of the import-loaded conference.
“It could be (a ticket to his return), despite all things that’s been said about him,” Uichico said. “Everybody will start off with physical games, there will be some emotional temper ‘di ba? But we have to have something good to say to him.”