While the TD Garden people chanted, “We want Joe,” Boston Celtics’ new striker Joe Johnson received a standing ovation as he entered a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 22 with 1:57 remaining.
It was the 1,277. NBA competition for 40-year-old Johnson, but also his first since the 2018 NBA playoffs. Despite a bundle of nerves inside, Johnson used breathing methods from his beloved hot yoga to calm himself down and a midrange sweater for the delight of Celtics believers to nail.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, don’t get it, brother,” Johnson said to The Undefeated. “That was a bit much for me. But in life’s toughest situations, if you can stay calm and breathe in a controlled manner, you will be fine. So that’s basically what I took. They started singing my name, I said ‘oh my god’ and I go in.
“But at the end of the day it’s basketball and I’m not trying to put too much more on it. Just go out and have fun, enjoy the game, enjoy this moment you are in, even if it still seems unreal, because at 40 we can be honest, brother, that doesn’t happen. “
Johnson has joined numerous players who recently signed 10-day contracts as the NBA was hampered by the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The only active player older than Johnson is Miami Heat’s Udonis Haslem, who turned 41 in June.
The Celtics designed Johnson with the 10th overall selection in the 2001 NBA Draft. The seven-time NBA All-Star averaged 16.0 points for the Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Utah Jazz and from 2001 to 2018 Houston Rockets. The 2009-10 All-NBA selection also had five consecutive seasons with the Hawks, where he averaged more than 20 points per game and averaged over 20,000 points in his career.
Since retiring from the NBA in 2018, Johnson has twice won MVP awards in Ice Cube’s Big3 league and qualified for USA basketball at the AmeriCup in February.
To Johnson’s surprise, on December 21, when he was celebrating his daughter’s 19th birthday, he received a call from his agent Jason Glushon asking if he would be interested in getting a 10-day contract with the COVID-19 ravaged Celtics sign. Johnson said yes and took the last plane to Boston from Atlanta three hours later.
Johnson, who played in one of two games with Boston, is very grateful for this opportunity.
“It’s still surreal to me at 40,” said Johnson. “I know this has a lot to do with COVID, but they are not reaching out to people who are 40 years old, brother, not to help any team. I don’t care who you are …
“They wanted experienced help, obviously to help these guys here. [Jayson] Tatum, [Jaylen] Brown, [Dennis] Schröder. And it wasn’t like, ‘All right. Yes. We will play these minutes for you. ‘ I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. So I was just trying to keep listening to the guys to let them know that during this process they would understand that there were ups and downs. “
Before the Celtics called, Johnson had actually focused on starting a hot yoga company with a dream of building a chain in the south.
Johnson said he was introduced to hot yoga by athletic trainer Wally Blasé around 2009 while playing for the Hawks. Johnson had hamstring and Achilles tendon problems which resulted in him missing out on a road trip with the team. Blasé stayed in Atlanta to help him with his rehabilitation and asked a skeptical Johnson to join him and his wife in a hot yoga session that he believed would help his injuries.
“I was like, ‘Man, I’m not ready not to do damn hot yoga,'” Johnson said. “His wife called me later that day and said, ‘Joe, you should come. It will help. You will love it.’ And I went, brother, and the rest is history. I fell in love with it. It made me feel the same as playing basketball. Hot yoga is so challenging. Every time I go into this room it humiliates me because no matter how good you get at hot yoga, it will still be tough.
“But it also has advantages. Injury prevention. Weight loss. Every time you do it it’s a detox. They bring bad toxins out of your body. I feel like a whole new person every time. That’s why I’m so addicted. “
From that point on, Johnson said he would try to take hot yoga classes as much as possible. That included finding hot yoga studios when out with the team he was playing for. Former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks, now ESPN basketball analyst, recalled Johnson’s commitment to yoga during a road trip to Philadelphia in the 2013-14 season.
“I was having coffee in the lobby and this is where Joe comes to the team hotel,” said Marks. “I was like, ‘Wow, this guy just came back from the night before and we have a game that day.’ But I look at him and he’s holding a yoga mat and he’s soaking wet. He wasn’t out to party, but he got his job in 15 hours before the notice. “
Johnson said, “It’s going to challenge your brain more than anything because of this heat. It’s a 90 minute course. With 105 degrees of heat and 40 degrees of humidity, it’s an hour and a half. And it’s probably about a pinch of oxygen in the room. Imagine how hard that is. Mentally you have to talk to yourself during the whole class. “
Hot yoga was a staple in Johnson’s life even after he left the NBA in 2018. And he wants to make it a staple food for more black people too.
Johnson said he had his own hot yoga studio in his Little Rock, Arkansas home and rented yoga studios in Atlanta. Earlier this month, he began giving free hot yoga classes called Joe Johnson Private Yoga Classes in Atlanta in hopes of getting his friends and yoga lovers to attend. His hope was also to introduce hot yoga to more African Americans. Interested attendees had to contact Johnson on his Instagram page to receive free classes from yoga teacher Rue Vagues.
“When I do yoga, there are never any African Americans there,” said Johnson. “And our people have to go along with the advantages that everyone has from it. That’s another reason I did it in Atlanta because I have a lot of friends in Atlanta. I thought, ‘Man, I can invite some of my friends over and let them experience this.’
“Before you try, be afraid. When they get there they see how hot the room is and I just tell them, ‘When you get into this room, if you take a lot of poses or even bend down to tie [your] Schuh, you have a tendency to hold your breath. Never hold your breath. You always breathe. Controlled breathing, breathing in and out of your nose for four to five seconds and in the most stressful of situations or conditions because this room is stressful. But it’s good stress, though. It’s not bad stress, brother. This good stress. And is it challenging? Yes, it’s a challenge, but I promise you it’s worth it. ‘ ”
Johnson said he is currently working on a business plan to open his first hot yoga studio in Atlanta. The hope is to eventually open a chain of hot yoga studios in Atlanta, Little Rock, and other parts of the south. Longer-term dreams are other cities he used to play in, like New York City and Miami. Johnson said he may not return to the Big3 in 2022 to focus on his hot yoga business.
“The Big3 asked me a few weeks ago if I would come back and play,” said Johnson. “And I told them I wasn’t sure because I had other things going. I got so deep into hot yoga. Me and my team, we have a plan for hot yoga studios to open some studios and try to get some of mine [African American] People in there. “
Joe Johnson of the Boston Celtics leaves the pitch after a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on December 22nd in Boston.
Omar Rawlings / Getty Images
Johnson said he has received a barrage of positive news from current and former players and coaches since returning to the NBA. Celtics stars Tatum, Brown, Schroder and Marcus Smart welcomed him. Johnson enjoyed crossing paths with Boston media, which he met in 2001 and which are still covering the Celtics. He thinks it’s wonderful that he is currently being trained by Ime Udoka, who guarded him during his playing days.
The last day of Johnson’s 10-day contract is Friday. Hoping he can get his daughter and son to a game before his time is up, he appreciates everything from the games to the bus rides to seeing each other in the locker room. And Johnson also says he can use the money he makes on his 10-day contract to pay for his new hot yoga business.
“It’s gratifying to me,” said Johnson. “I am grateful because I know and understand that at 40 you have to do something different to get such an opportunity to enjoy the moment. So if that’s it after those 10 days, then that’s it. But to be honest, I don’t even think about it.
“I take it one day at a time. I’m trying to go in there, exercise a little and just have fun with it. “
Marc J. Spears is the lead NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dive in on you, but he hasn’t done it in years and his knees still hurt.