James Johnson is not just a basketball player. He's also a heavily trained fighter who holds a 20-0 record as a kickboxer and who comes from a family of black belts. From Ailene Voisin:
Before Johnson committed to basketball and football in high school, the Cheyenne East prep standout won seven world karate titles, nine national championships, and was 20-0 as a kickboxer. Once, while touring with an AAU team from Denver, he rushed home and volunteered for a mixed martial arts bout sponsored by his father, who owns J&P's Martial Arts; he won in less than two minutes.
"We all fight," said Johnson, who is pleasant and engaging. "Even my mom has a black belt. ... Most of my Samoan cousins and family members played football. I was a wide receiver in high school, and I actually got more (scholarship) offers in football than basketball. But I wanted to do something different."
I'm not sure he'll be the conclusive answer for the Kings at small forward, but that's primarily because we've been fooled so many times already. What he is certainly is a different breed of NBA player, one that makes his mark by running through people, not finessing around them. Those who have seen the first three games have noted his activity level and aggression. Those are excellent signs, and part of what this team needs. (The other part is shooting, frankly, which is something Johnson doesn't seem to offer.)
I covered the 2009 NBA Draft pretty closely, and I had totally missed that Johnson's mother is Samoan. There's a substantial Samoan population in the area, and they are among the most connected communities I've ever seen. (I spent part of my childhood two houses down from an awesome first-generation Samoan family.) Expect to see a lot more Johnson jerseys as word spreads.