How did you spend your NBA lockout vacation?
Portland Trail Blazers big man Chris Johnson spent his winning a title in the Dominican Republic league, but only after spending more than an hour hiding in a locked locker room as "mayhem" raged outside.
Johnson, a 6-11 and 210 pound forward/center, was a late-season addition to the Blazers, a long and athletic defense and rebounding specialist best known for delivering a flagrant foul to Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki during Game 6 of a first round playoff series and for winning D-League All-Star honors.
Before putting up 8 points, 16 rebounds and 2 steals in LaMarcus Aldridge's Rip City Basketball Classic charity game on Sunday night, Johnson described a harrowing scene on his road to a Dominican Republic league title.
Suiting up for Leones de Santo Domingo, Johnson said he was expected to be a role player.
"I didn't have to score or do that much, just block shots and rebound," Johnson said.
Well, that and hide with his teammates when all hell broke loose.
"We were beating a team by like 15 points," Johnson remembered, "and we had three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Somebody threw a bottle, like a Sprite bottle, but it was full, and he called the game off. I guess that's the rule there."
The crowd hadn't been taking the loss well and it certainly didn't endorse the referee's decision to forfeit the game.
"After he called the game off, it was mayhem, man," Johnson said, without a smile. "Bottles coming everywhere, they were throwing chairs."
The chaos caused everyone, including the referee, to flee the court.
"Everybody got out of there at that point, everybody knows what to do, it was natural," Johnson said.
From there, Johnson and his teammates were escorted to the locker room by security and locked in for their own safety.
"We were in the locker room and we got word from outside that they were smashing the windows out of the bus," Johnson said. "At one point they were saying there was shooting out, but I don’t know if that was true or not."
Possible gun shots, a damaged team bus and a lot of angry people in a foreign country. Despite all of that, Johnson, who is 26 years old and happily married, said he did not quite fear for his life.
"We were locked in the locker room, so nobody could get in there," he said. "We heard everybody fighting. It was like a riot. We waited for an hour, hour and a half for everybody to leave. That was it."
The experience, thankfully, didn't stop Leones from going on to capture the Dominican Republic title.
Johnson posted this ecstatic message on his Facebook after the victory in late-September.
"So hype right now! Just won my FIRST professional basketball CHAMPIONSHIP!!! (2011 Dominican Republic National Basketball Championship) shout out to all my Leones team mates and coaches, everyone contributed to this win and im so thankful to you all. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to do what i love everyday. and i cant wait to get my Blazers jersey back on. Next championship will be in Rip CITYYYYY."
With the Dominican Republic season complete, Johnson says he is working out back home in Virginia. While he's under contract with the Blazers for 2011-2012 and he plays a position of need for the team, his mindset hasn't changed since the end of last season, in which he averaged 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds as a bit player.
"They want me to bring energy," Johnson said. "Be a big guy like Tyson Chandler. Block shots, rebound, be aggressive in those aspects. Get a few post moves.You always have to prove yourself. I don’t think anything is guaranteed to that point, but even if it was guaranteed I still have that mindset that I still have to work hard, I want to be the best player I can be and the best player for the Portland Trail Blazers."
Johnson says he fully supports the National Basketball Players Association leadership, and points to NBPA president Derek Fisher and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter's long-term vision as a critical piece that influences his decision-making.
"My mindset is just to wait right now," Johnson said. "Hopefully they get a deal done. I feel like Derek Fisher and Billy are doing things for more than themselves, they are doing something for the future. That’s why I appreciate what they are doing."
That said, his explosive play on both ends on Sunday night led one to conclude that the wait must be agonizing.
"I think everybody is anxious to play, everybody wants to play, it’s unfortunate what’s going on," Johnson said. "All the players want to play, of course. We want to get back to work."
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter