James Johnson; media day impressions and interview

Let's face it, Johnson's already growing a cult following, and he deserves it.   You've got a kick-boxing, break-dancing guy who's appreciative of the fans.   If I tried to describe the experience of interviewing Johnson you'd think I was writing a new James Johnson fact.  He's the construct of everything you could hope for in an interview. 
For me, one of the more fun periods of media day was when James Johnson entered the room.  Most of the players are just happy to get in and out as fast as they can, but Johnson bounded into the room with a smile on his face ready to do whatever was asked.  

He went through the goofy photo stations putting in extra effort at every stop willing to do whatever the photographers requested and seemed to enjoy talking to everyone who wanted to have a few words with him.

When I interviewed Johnson with a group of media I was the last one there, and as I turned to leave, he extended his hand (which he already shook when I said hello), to shake it again on the way out.  It sounds like a "no big deal" thing, but Johnson's the one guy there who made sure to leave you with the impression that he's just another guy.  The fame hasn't set in yet.

I'm not sure what to expect from Johnson on the court.  He's a mid 1st rounder in a weak draft class.  Historical odds would say to set your sites low, but those who've been reading me for a long time know that I've been far higher on him than his draft stock.   I consider him as good as anyone in this draft outside of Blake Griffin, and I'll be rooting for him to beat those odds.  Not just for the Bulls, but for the man. 

Below are all the media day questions asked from when I interviewed Johnson, not all of them are mine, but about 1/3rd of them are since I was the last one to leave the media scrum.  They've been reordered somewhat to try and make a more logical sequence out of them.

How has summer been for you learning the ropes?

Exciting, but mind tiring, it takes a lot out of you mentally, but you know you're getting better as well.

This team wants to get more aggressive more defensively, what will your play do to help that?

I've got a fighting attitude.  I hate losing just like all the guys hating losing.  Maybe I could have been the piece that they needed to help make stops a couple of times.  We've got great leaders who play great defense, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah and I'm just going to try to contribute.

Do you wear your black belt at all?

No (laughing), it's back home with my parents.  Every now and again I might go home and try it on again.

Do you ever show your teammates some moves?

I show these guys a couple moves every now and again just playing around with them, but they already know what I am and what I've got up my sleeve.

Martial arts creates a lot of balance and focus, how has that helped a player of your size?

Of course, I hear everyday these guys in the locker room telling me with how big you are you shouldn't be able to dribble like that or jump like you do.  No one ever thinks I'm as athletic as I am.  I go to places to eat or things like that and parents tell me they put their kids in martial arts because of me and that just makes me feel good about myself.

You're very polite, do you do any trash talking on the court?

I back up my teammates.  If you're talking to my teammate crazy then I'm going to back up my teammate of course, but other than that I let my game do the trash talking.

One tough thing for rookies is going from big man on campus to the bottom of the totem pole has the last few months been humbling for you?

You know I'm always humble and am going to stay that way.  Coming from HS to the best conference in the country was supposed to be the same thing.  I don't look at things like that where I'm the new guy that went from being the best to a new guy.  I always think of myself as the best and want to work to be the best.  In the summertime, I was up here with coach E the strength coach, and I'm working out to be the best. 

So I know when I get a chance to get in the game I can show everyone that I'm not an ordinary rookie.  My teammates are doing a great job helping. I was talking to Luol, and was asking him how he comes off screens because I love the way he comes off screens. I want to put that in my game, and to be the best I can never stop learning.  I'm just trying to take everything in stride and be a sponge.

You seem to have a great balance of confidence and being humble, because the NBA game doesn't come easy for everybody.

Most definitely.  The NBA is hard work. Most guys in the league are great scorers or defender, but every team also has role players.  Those guys are in the league because they bust their teammates everyday in practice and make them work harder.  If that's what I have to be then I'm going to do to make them work hard.

What have you worked on specifically since leaving Las Vegas

It'd be a lot easier to say what I didn't work on.  Randy Brown had me in the gym non stop.  After weights, we'd come in and do shots that he thought I needed to work on then he'd incorporate things I thought I needed to work on.  I've come a long way since summer league, and I'm happy with where I'm at right now.

What's a typical day like for you?

9:30 wakeup, workout with coach E, lifting and conditioning for 2 hours.  Hit the court for about an hour in a half.   Go home for a bit, come back at night and get up some more jump shots.

What might you show fans that they didn't see of you at Wake Forest?

I'm not sure yet, because I haven't had coach Del Negro coach me in a specific way, but I know my game's a lot different than Wake Forest, if you saw me at summer league then you saw my game.  At college they put you where they need you.  In the pros, they put you where you're at.

Bulls are down by one, you're going to get the game winning shot attempt.  Do you want the ball on the perimeter or in the post?

I want the ball where ever my mismatch is.  If it's in the post, then in the post.  If it's on the wing, give to me on the wing.  I'm a mismatch guy.  If we're down by one, but I definitely want the ball.

As far as your personality is concerned do you fit in well with this group of guys?

Oh yeah, it's a blessing in disguise falling to #16 so I could come to the Chicago Bulls.  These guys are caring, but their still vets so they call me rook and play around with things like that.  I respect them, but we still have fun.

You've got the jumpman tattoo on the arm, it's got to be kind of cool to wear the Bulls uniform?

Yeah, it's crazy I got this in the 9th grade, but I never thought I'd be playing for the Chicago Bulls, I never thought I'd get to play for the Bulls, it's kind of weird that I got [the uniform] but I'm going to wear it with honor.

You ever take your jersey home and put it on in the mirror and be like this is mine?

Did I?! I went home and rocked it like a throw back. <everyone laughing> I rocked it like a throwback.  Who's jersey is that?   It's mine!  It's mine.  It's crazy, I put on some nice jeans, nice shoes and that jersey.


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  • I was a DeJuan Blair advocate going into the draft, but JJ has definitely won me over. I like his approach to his rookie season.

  • Hopefully Jonhson & Gibson have great success along with Mliler & Thomas. If they work hard enough and with some luck all of them should shove the lazy, weak and winded No-Shot Noah to the bench where he belongs,permanetly!

  • Really nice article, I like JJ, he seems to be a great person to be around. Maybe he's the glue guy for the team. He could be very important even if he's not playing much, b/c he makes the team a real team.
    Thanks for this great interview.

  • I thought DT was sippin on something when he said JJ is the guy we should draft and you were right.

    NO BJ Mullens!

  • Doug, perhaps you can arrange a meeting between Noah and Alex, preferably in an MMA cage. I'll be rooting for and betting on that lazy, weak-ass, winded No-shot bum. No actually I'll be rooting for Noah.

  • Assuming that Johnson can play some ball, and plays with hustle when he does, he is already in my top 3 favorite Bulls, along with Noah and Rose. I will be rooting for him to make it, much the way that I did for Thabo, and Noah.

    I will admit that I thought he was the guy we were going to get "stuck" with from day one. However, he has won me over with his personality, (dare I say charm), and from the little that we have seen of his play and your reporting, I am cautiously optimistic that maybe the Bulls "braintrust" will turn out to be correct, and we got a steal at #16.

  • Great article. JJ comes off like a very good kid who is willing to work in order to stay in shape and be ready for the season.

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