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Birds of Prey: Joe Johnson's 34 Points Against The Bulls

May 3, 2011


Last year, when I was asked to write for The Faster Times, I wrote my first column on Jamal Crawford and the Atlanta Hawks. I'm not sure why; despite living in Georgia for a decade that overlapped the '80s and '90s, I never really climbed aboard the Dominique Wilkins freight train, maybe because my dad always complained about how he never played defense and couldn't hold a candle to Michael Jordan.

The first basketball game I ever attended was at the old Omni. We sat in the nosebleed section, and I had to hold my father's hand as we ascended to our seats. It felt like we were so high up that the rafters blocked our view. I could barely make out the duel that went on between 'Nique and Danny Manning. I also didn't realize that I was watching two guys already on downward spirals turning into supernovas, soon to be traded. I had a brief affair with the late '90s Hawks. I was infatuated with Dikembe Mutombo and Mookie Blaylock. Steve Smith's game was quiet by comparison, but his game spoke volumes. I think Steve Smith was the prototype for Joe Johnson, just cheaper.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  used to be filled with so many names and stories about guys named Augmon and Corbin and Henderson. In print, during the regular season, their names read like Biblical heroes, but in the Playoffs, they always became juggling midgets that great players like Michael Jordan would laugh at and mock. Can you believe Christian Laettner made an All-Star game? Dennis Rodman let him know that it was a mistake. The Hawks never put up much of a fight in the Playoffs, unless it's a vintage shootout between 'Nique and Bird, it's like they misinterpreted their own mascot, believing that a bird of prey is the critter that get eaten. The Hawks have been chewed up and spit out and chewed up so many times--it's hard to believe there's anything left.

Then, in a game against the number one seeded Chicago Bulls and their MVP Derrick Rose, Joe Johnson drops 34 points. Jamal Crawford tallies 22. Each man scoring from his side of the arc like two boys placing pebbles on their side of a scale. And their efforts appear so fluid and natural that one wonders what deep body of water they had to drag in order to find such smooth stones. Then one wonders why as a boy he never latched onto the roaring tide that was Dominique Wilkins. How was I never a Hawks fan? And the answer is: Because nobody ever found them good enough, not even their own state.

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