MANILA, Philippines – Import Ivan Johnson fast developed a “bad boy” reputation when he debuted in the PBA last season. News of his return this 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup quickly sparked conversation and speculation on the kind of antics he might come up with.
The American Tropang TNT reinforcement is infamous for being intense, aggressive, and quite short-tempered. But the version everyone sees on the court is not all there is to Johnson.
“I like him. In practice he’s fun,” TNT rookie Moala Tautuaa said of Johnson in the short amount of time he’s known the import.
“He’s definitely a different player when we play. He’s intense. He likes to win and he wants to win and he does what he can. He’s a strong man. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a good player.”
Johnson, 31, was slapped a lifetime ban on top of a P250,000-fine Saturday, February 13 after hurling curse words at PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa.
Johnson was ejected from the TNT-Meralco game before halftime for incurring two technicals along with a flagrant foul penalty 1. The commissioner, who reportedly convened with a technical committee at the half, then announced the official ban during the fourth quarter.
The former Atlanta Hawk showed Saturday the trademark intensity that aggression fans, players, and coaches alike have come to associate with the import since last season.
But Johnson has a lighter side to his personality known largely by TNT players and officials.
“He jokes around with us,” guard Jayson Castro said in Filipino of Johnson, who issued an apology to Narvasa Sunday, February 14.
“Of course his emotions is because of his passion for basketball,” added Castro, who declined further comment on the matter.
Tautuaa has a personal perspective as he gets the brunt of Johnson’s teasing during practices.
“He jokes a lot at practice with me. I don’t know if it’s ‘cause I’m a rookie but he likes to tease me,” the comedic big man shared while laughing.
“So does everyone else. I don’t know what it is about my face that makes everybody want to tease me but everyone wants to tease me so, whatever.”
TNT team manager Virgil Villavicencio is likewise a witness to the way Johnson switches from jester to beast mode on game days.
“There are moments that he jokes around with some of the players. That has been his trait ever since. But come game time ‘I’m here to play’,” Villavicencio shared.
Johnson’s fiery persona was on full display in the immediate aftermath of his ban, when he took to Twitter to air his grievances: “The devil is working overtime. What’s the hate against me?”
Villavicencio says that Johnson remained the same person as last year, when he rapidly gained notoriety from dugout and parking lot confrontations, taunting, bumping a coach along the sideline, and challenging players to take things outside the venue after games.
Johnson got himself into trouble even before the conference started when he got into a punching incident during a Blackwater tune-up game. He was suspended for one game and fined a total of P50,000.
It can be remembered that Johnson once had an encounter with Star Hotshots big man Marc Pingris during last year’s Commissioner’s Cup semifinals, when Johnson waited for Pingris to enter the dugout tunnel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and confronted him after the game.
Johnson, who was previously banned from the Korean Basketball League in 2010 for flicking off a referee, was fined P150,000 last season for bumping Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao in the finals. He also had another altercation with then Painters guard Ryan Araña at an arena parking lot.
(READ: Guiao on banned Johnson: ‘He’s a world-class a*shole’)
Pingris even recalled an incident during the official height measurement last year where he said Johnson declared, “I’m here to play basketball” to the coaches before walking away.
“Very moody off the court,” Villavicencio offered. “But in the game ganadong ganado (he’s very eager). He laughs around, plays around.”
Johnson’s heightened zeal isn’t all bad, as it served as fuel for TNT from trainings to the battle field.
“When it comes to practice the team’s intensity is high because of him,” Villavicencio said. “He shows it. He always wants to win.”
“To tell you frankly, mawala lang yung init ng ulo, magaling na player e (just lose his hotheadedness, he’s a great player). When he wants to score, he’ll score,” the official added. “When he wants to shoot outside, he’ll shoot outside. When he wants to defend he can defend. He’s a total package.”
Defending champion TNT is now in search of a new import before playing again on Friday, February 19 against Globalport. – Rappler.com
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