Ever since the Chicago Bulls picked him 16th in the 2009 draft, we’ve heard tales of current Raptor James Johnson’s fighting past. As the story goes, Johnson was raised by a black belt father and mother who taught their son martial arts, which eventually led to world championships and cage fighting, with a little basketball thrown in for good measure. There was even that one time he almost kicked Chris Paul in the face.
But we’ve rarely heard stories about James Johnson combining his martial arts skills with basketball, mostly because that would be incredibly dangerous for everyone involved. Thankfully, that changes today, as Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star relays this tale of kicking prowess from a recent Raptors practice.
Warming up for Thursday’s workout, the Raptors were faced with a common practice-court predicament. There were three balls lodged in one basket, suspended in the mesh like so many fish in a net.
It was no big problem, really. Tall men were in abundance. One flick of a wingspan could have alleviated the logjam. But Ed Davis and Jerry Bayless had a different idea. They challenged teammate James Johnson to dislodge the balls with an improbable implement — specifically, his foot. And soon enough Johnson, who is both 6-foot-9 and a black belt in kenpo karate, was wowing the squad with an airborne freak show.
“He looked like a ninja warrior,” marvelled Francesco Cuzzolin, the club’s strength and conditioning coach. “He was jumping in the air, spinning 360 and kicking the balls in the net. His head was over the rim, his legs were splitting, and he’s kicking the balls. It was something I’ve never seen in my life.”
Said Jay Triano, the Raptors coach: “He had to do it, like, five times because nobody could believe it.”
The balls, for the record, did not come out of the mesh. And if that didn’t lessen the amazement of onlookers, Johnson, the former first-round pick who was acquired by the Raptors in a trade with Chicago last month, was blase about the achievement.
“I got challenged. I’m about challenges, so I took it on and tried it,” he said. “I can make my foot touch the rim . . . That was just a spinning back kick. I just jumped to do it.”
Not quite sure what my favorite part of this is. It could be that no one believed that he could do it, even after watching him do it, so they just kept making him do jump kicks again and again and again. It could be that even though these kicks were apparently super awesome, the balls stayed stuck in the net, which is a very James Johnson thing to happen. It might be the nonchalant way Johnson mentions “I can make my foot touch the rim” like it’s no big deal to be able to kick 10 feet in there. There are a lot of really good choices for best part of this story.
That’s why I’m going to play it safe and just say “everything.” Everything about this is the best.