How often do opponents acknowledge Johnson's extraordinary moves?
"Hmmm. Some guys say, 'Try that again and I'm gonna break your arm,' or 'Come in here again and I'll take your head off.' When you're playing Julius it's 'Oh, it's Dr. J. How am I gonna stop him!' Sometimes I sense players have that kind of respect for me, whereas with other players it's 'Yeah. Come on. Take it to me.' Walter Davis and I have real good games. A lot of times he'll score 38 and I'll score 37.
"Now this one happened my rookie year in Houston. I was posting up with the defender fronting me. I'm supposed to break to the basket while Quinn Buckner throws me a lob pass. But the pass was behind me and low, and I had to turn around and bend down for it. I caught it and in one motion pulled up and dunked it blind, backwards."
"How did you know where you were?" someone asks him.
"I told you. I always know where I am."
"But a dunk? A fraction of an inch off and it bounces into the seats."
"Not if you know precisely where you are."
Johnson certainly gives the impression that he knows precisely where he is. He speaks clearly and carefully in a basso profundo voice, and is interested in many more things than the location of the basket. He was an excellent student from the beginning, and at one point his parents changed his elementary school because, says his father, "We thought he was making A's too easily. But he kept right on making A's and we were told he was just a gifted student." He received a degree in theater arts at UCLA; eventually he would like to get into film or television production work. He carries a Screen Actors Guild card. He keeps in close touch with current events, reading TIME magazine on planes while some of his teammates read trashy novels or sports pages or sleep. He is rarely quoted colorfully because reporters who cover the team have the idea that he is quiet and staid, and private. But he has a wry sense of humor, is quick with a quip and is universally liked.
"Marques is pure vanilla," says Bucks Vice-President John Steinmiller. Embry says that he is the embodiment of "class." Teammate Buckner, who is impressed with Johnson's intelligence and efficiency as a player, says, "Success hasn't fazed him in the least." Jon McGlocklin, a former Buck forward and now the team's radio and TV color man, says he doesn't really know Johnson well; no one on the team does. But his impressions are: "Intelligent, mature, strong, upright. He gives you a little bit of himself, but holds a little back. That adds intrigue. Makes him mysterious. I can't think of a single negative thing to say about him." Says Center Bob Lanier, "I love him. To death."
Johnson is driving a red Jeep to an out-of-the-way Milwaukee soul-food restaurant, and talking about discipline. "In things that I consider very important, I guess I am disciplined," he says. "That's the way I was brought up. But in minor things, cleaning my room, stuff like that, I'm not as together as my image might suggest."