Joe Johnson will forever have his place in NBA history as the clutchest player of all-time and perhaps the player with the most nicknames. According to Basketball Reference, his nicknames consist of “Iso Joe,” “Joe Cool,” “Big Shot Joe,” and “Armadillo Cowboy” (really, where did that last one come from? And they’re missing one, but I’ll go into that later).
That’s why in 2017, when the 6-foot-7 wing is still able to carry the Utah Jazz to victory in the playoffs with late buckets, many people seem to forget that he’s 35 years old. Johnson has been in the league for 15 years, but the level at which he plays seems to have remained unchanged — particularly his success rate at knocking down last-second shots to secure his team a win.
Does anyone even remember his first game-winner? (I couldn’t, until I looked up his highlights). He’s had far too many — to be precise, eight since 2007, which is a record in that timeframe. His very first one, unsurprisingly, took place during his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks.
Johnson was the heart and soul of the Hawks, before rad neon uniforms took his place. He was their lord and savior — someone Atlanta could always turn to, someone who never stepped away from the limelight, whether the Hawks needed a hero or just someone to carry the load in scoring. Surprisingly, only two of his eight game-winners were from his time with Atlanta, though in his prime, he posted the best numbers of his career with the Hawks. 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game are nothing to glance over, and Johnson has not hit anywhere close to those statistics since then.
The biggest mark that will stain Johnson’s place in NBA history is the luxurious contract he signed with the Hawks in July 2010. Johnson’s reliability as a scorer and four All-Star selections at the time certainly justified his six-year, $123.7 million deal, but in hindsight, he never led the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs. Two years after signing the colossal deal, the Hawks traded him to the “win-now” Brooklyn Nets — another deal that drew a lot of criticism, since Brooklyn gave up five players to acquire a star who was approaching the end of his prime.
Johnson may not have produced at the same caliber in Brooklyn as he did in Atlanta, though his clutchness grew to an all-time high. Five of Johnson’s eight career game-winners came during his stint with the Nets, and his freakishly bold intuition late in games earned him the nickname “Joe Jesus” (the missing nickname!) by then-teammate Kevin Garnett.
A decade had passed from the time Johnson had joined the Hawks to the time he left Brooklyn. Now, add one and a half years to that, and we’ve hit 2017, when the 35-year-old is still able to put on the moves for the Jazz.
So if it’s one thing Johnson’s hefty contract will never take away from him, it’s his killer instinct on the court. When you need a guardian angel, just call “Joe Jesus.”
“Iso Joe” will continue to strike until 3017. And that won’t even shock anyone.