James Johnson: The most lethal player in the NBA

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Who is the most lethal player in the NBA?

Is it Stephen Curry and his ability to create a 20-point lead in the blink of an eye? Or Kevin Durant's seemingly unnatural knack to score from absolutely anywhere on the floor? How about LeBron's James' physical domination and drive to succeed? Or even Kobe Bryant and the ice water that runs through his veins when a game is on the line?

All of these would be fine answers, hard to disagree with in fact, but not on this occasion. Not when James Johnson is taking centre stage.


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Born and raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming - the son of Willie and Vi Johnson - James was destined to head into martial arts. His father is a sixth-degree black belt and won 15 titles whilst his mother is also a black belt holder and won five national titles herself.

The Johnson's had nine kids, of which James is the middle one, and eight of them hold black belts, including James. That was in 2009, it's safe to assume that Kiana, the youngest who held a blue belt at the time, now has a black one as well.

This is to be expected of a family that owns and runs a Martial Arts School in their hometown, called J&P's.

"[J&P's] was like our playground: Every night we'd go there and work on stuff," James said. "Going to other people's houses was weird for me. I'd be like, what do you guys do after dinner?"

Little Ali

Before Johnson focused on being a basketball player, he was a martial arts prodigy nicknamed 'Little Ali' by his parents, thanks to his blindingly quick footwork and all-around speed. The moniker was well deserved as he beat everyone that stood against him in a ring.

'Little Ali' was a standout athlete at Cheyenne East prep and put together an impressive trophy collection during his time in high-school. Johnson won seven world karate titles and nine national championships in his brief martial arts career. He faced 20 opponents in kickboxing, beating every single one of them.


Johnson didn't just limit himself to kickboxing, though. No, the now-28-year-old branched out into MMA as well. His debut fight came at the last minute after rushing home from an AAU basketball tournament in Denver. Sponsored by his dad Willie, Johnson won inside two minutes after gaining. The man he beat, Damon Clark, was 31-years-old and went on to fight professionally.

James went on to fight six more times, and as you can probably guess, he won all of those as well - making him undefeated in two separate fields.

The question remains, why did Johnson decide to take up basketball instead of carrying on his seemingly promising MMA career? It turns out the answer is quite simple.

The Choice

"They don't give out scholarships for kickboxing or mixed martial arts," Johnson told us when we spoke to him at the O2 Arena in London ahead of the NBA's Global Game between the Raptors and the Orlando Magic.

"If there was (scholarships for martial arts) then I might've considered it. But I had offers to play basketball and football and chose basketball."

Johnson made the right choice, that's not in doubt. The 6-foot-9, 250lb forward decided to play his college ball at Wake Forest and helped the Demon Deacons to a #1 ranking in his sophomore season, while finishing second in the 2008 ACC Rookie of the Year balloting the season before as he led the team in scoring and rebounding.

He got drafted by the Bulls in 2009 and finds himself in Toronto after two trips to the D-League, the Kings, Grizzlies, and another stint with the Raptors.

However, despite being away from kickboxing training for so long, it doesn't mean that Johnson can't bust out a move or two every now and then.

"I once kicked a ball from off the rim. A couple of teammates challenged me and I had to show them. That was pretty cool, seeing their reactions to that."

Then there's the story of how Derrick Rose chose to room with Johnson when the haunted hotel the Bulls were staying in spooked the MVP too much.

Johnson is so feared that a grown man decided to room with him to wade off supernatural forces.

That's what makes James Johnson the most lethal man in the NBA. That and the amount of knockout victories to his name.

Toronto Raptors
Atlantic Division
Eastern Conference
Memphis Grizzlies
Southwest Division
Western Conference
James Johnson
Sacramento Kings
Pacific Division
Chicago Bulls
Central Division

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