Johnson has a pure behind-the-head jumper, too. "Guys like him can score at will," says Golden State Warrior coach Don Nelson. "But they'd rather keep everybody else on their team in the game." Indeed, sometimes Johnson has to be cajoled into shooting. After he had scored only five points in the first half of a March 17 game against Portland, Phoenix coach Cotton Fitzsimmons took him aside and insisted that he take the open shot. Johnson poured in 34 points in the second half.
KJ is an equal opportunity destroyer. He has gotten 31 against the Knicks, 32 against the Sixers, and 30 points and 21 assists in one game against the Lakers and 24 and 17 in another. Fitzsimmons may be right when he says, "Nobody in the NBA can guard this kid."
Forget that. Nobody in the NBA can understand this kid. He answers the door at his condo in Phoenix holding a bucket and a sponge. He's cleaning his apartment. Making more than $500,000 a year and doing housework. Come right in. Chessboard on the coffee table. A piano. "I thought I should be more musical," he says. Where's the TV? It's in the living room, but he rarely watches it. "It keeps me from thinking and creating, you know, from imagining," he says.
The desk in his den is full of mail—all of which he answers—and paperwork. A yellow highlighting pen lies next to Pascal's Pensées. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Erich Fromm and Plato are on the bookshelf. "My mom always told me I could be different," says KJ. "I never wanted to be one of the guys."
The people in Phoenix seem to like Johnson just fine. After all that the Suns have been through, including a drug episode two years ago involving 10 persons, among them several former players, it's hip to be square, and Johnson is nothing if not that. The chapel service he runs before every home game for teammates—and visiting players—gets larger every month.
Even the most callous beings on the planet, NBA refs, are trying the KJ Way. When a ball went out of bounds in one game this season, the official didn't see it, so he asked Johnson who touched it last. "I did," said KJ. On the sideline, Fitzsimmons's hair did a Don King.
When Johnson got called for a foul as he stole the ball from Moses Malone of the Atlanta Hawks earlier this season, he made a rare complaint. "Gee, I thought I got that one," he said to the ref. Later, the official sidled up to Johnson and apologized: "If you're complaining about it, Kevin, I must have missed it." Could Jimmy Stewart play this part or what?
There's a lot of It's a Wonderful Life in Johnson's past. Grampy George, a retired Sacramento sheet metal worker, who's white, was in love with Georgia, also white, who managed a tavern. "Apart, we were a couple of bums," says George. "But together, we made a pretty fair couple."
Georgia became pregnant by another man, but George married her. They named the baby—who was black—Georgia. When the younger Georgia was 16 she had Kevin (the father, who never married her, drowned in the Sacramento River three years later). The grandparents agreed to raise the child as their own. "Kevin had a couple of parents who were pretty hard to explain," says George. "But we were a happy family."
Kevin grew up tall and smart (he skipped fifth grade) and straight, even though he was raised in a tough neighborhood. His grandfather was so loved that kids would bring him their bikes to fix, and a wino once gave him his unemployment compensation to ration. "I can remember people knocking on our door at all hours," says KJ. "The bums would be asking for money. And Grampy would always give it to them—one dollar at a time."