'Iso Joe' Johnson calls return to Celtics after 20 years 'surreal'

·3 min read

Joe Johnson received a warm welcome at TD Garden on Wednesday night and if for any who might have missed it among holiday travel, it wasn't as a fan. 

Johnson, nicknamed "Iso Joe" for his ability to score on the specific play, signed a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics ahead of their tilt against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It came 20 years after he made his NBA debut with the team and three years since he last played in the league. 

The crowd chanted "We want Joe" and upon his entrance, it erupted into cheers. Johnson, 40, scored the final points of the 111-101 victory with an isolation jumper over Justin Anderson. 

"We know what he is," Celtics coach Ime Udoka said, via ESPN. "Everybody said it as they walked in [the locker room]: 'Joe's a bucket.' That's what he is and he's always been, and so that's not gonna change."

Johnson said he had a heads up from his agent on Tuesday about a potential offer from the Celtics, who were dealing with a depleted roster because of COVID-19 protocols. The league relaxed its rules for signing players via hardship waivers to help the depleted rosters as the Omicron variant spreads.

He received the call within the hour and hopped a flight three hours afterward headed to Boston. 

"It's amazing to be back here 20 years later," Johnson said after the game. "It's still surreal to me."

Johnson's path back to NBA

He was the Celtics' No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft, but was traded away midseason and never played for Boston again. The shooting guard has been at home in Little Rock, Arkansas, working out with his 14-year-old son, who also plays basketball, via ESPN. 

The last game he played in was on May 28, 2018, while with the Houston Rockets. It was Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The next fall he was cut by the Detroit Pistons during training camp. 

The gap between games set a record for time between games with the same team, per ESPN. His was 19 years, 308 days and bested that of Los Angeles Lakers center James Edwards, who previously set it at 14 years, 331 days.  

He also became the second-oldest player in the NBA behind the Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem. He's the only player currently on an NBA roster who has played against Michael Jordan. 

Johnson ruled Big 3 

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 22: Justin Anderson #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers attempts to block Joe Johnson #55 of the Boston Celtics shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on December 22, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
Justin Anderson #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers attempts to block Joe Johnson #55 of the Boston Celtics shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on December 22, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Johnson told reporters in October he wasn't done and wasn't ready to retire from the league yet.

Johnson starred in the Big 3 while away from the NBA, earning MVP honors while breaking the league's scoring record. He led all players in assists and steals per game and tied for third in rebounds. 

He won two Big 3 titles and played for TeamUSA at the AmeriCup last February. He hadn't given up on his return to the NBA, but wasn't sold he would make it.

"I wouldn't say give up, but I didn't have high hopes," Johnson said, via ESPN. "My son's 14, so he keeps me in the gym. We work and work and work, and I always talk to him [and say], 'Just work. Even when you can't see what's next, you just gotta continue to work.'"

Johnson played for the Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Heat and Rockets over his 17-season career prior to Wednesday night. 

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting