In his sixth season in Toronto, Amir Johnson is about to become an unrestricted free agent for the second time in his NBA career and he has strong personal reasons for wanting to re-sign with the Raptors. Toronto has become home for his family and family is everything to him.
“I would love to come back,” Johnson said. “My daughter was born and raised here so I would love to stay just because my family is here, but we’ll see what happens at the end of the season.
“Family is always the key to everybody’s moves. You do what is best for your family. Family is everything.”
Johnson has embraced his adopted city in ways few professional athletes do. Johnson does the usual charity work and mandated public appearances, but he also attends many unrelated local events and embraces activities in Toronto that set him apart – activities like full on participation in the local Zombie Walk.
Sometimes he just buys every Drake CD he can get has hands on and gives them out to anyone following him close enough on social media to know what he’s up to.
Johnson gets out there in the community with his fans. Where some athletes say they appreciate their fans support, Johnson rewards that support with a tangible show of love to a big group of devoted followers every season. ‘I Roll With Amir’ has become a major event Johnson promotes via social media where lucky fans get a chance to win tickets to a Raptors game followed by dinner (and a show) afterwards.
This year Johnson has invited 50 lucky fans to the Raptors second last home game of the season followed by dinner at Benihana Japanese Steakhouse.
Johnson is more than just a huge goodwill ambassador for the team, he has also been a key part of the Raptors starting lineup at power forward over the past two winning seasons. While he doesn’t have a huge stat line, Johnson has Head coach Dwane Casey’s confidence and has often been the go-to- center in the fourth quarter.
Johnson plays hard, plays through injuries and is reliable. Casey knows what he is getting with his young veteran big man in the game. So the question becomes, why didn’t the Raptors offer Johnson an extension? It’s not like they were going to have to break the bank to keep him.
“(An extension,) that’s really not up to (me), that’s the people in the front office,” Johnson said. “Really never talked about any of that you know because we’ve been so focused on the season and we still are. So whatever the guys in the front office do, we’ll see what happens.”
The time for doing an extension has passed and the focus should be on the here and now, but it is somewhat of a surprise Johnson never really talked about it. DeMar DeRozan and Johnson are the two longest serving players on the Raptors and are like the foundation the team was build on. This tight knit group just wouldn’t be the same if Johnson was no longer around next season.
“I never really worried about free agency,” Johnson said. “I’ve never really worried about it throughout my career. Right now I’m just focused on these games and the playoffs.
“I don’t know (if I’ll be back). We got to wait and see. Just got to wait.”
Johnson has developed into one of those young veteran players coaches want to have around. He works hard, plays hard, has fun at the right time and is an excellent example for younger teammates to follow. He also defies the stereotype that says American players don’t want to sign or re-sign in Toronto and his legions of loyal local fans definitely want him back.
Rolling with Amir has been good for Toronto.
photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com