For the past two seasons, Atlanta Hawks forward Ivan Johnson has stood out as the sort of unique character who makes the NBA a fun league to follow on an everyday basis. The 29-year-old Johnson has been a solid performer for Atlanta, notching a 15.1 PER in 125 total games at 15.8 minutes per game, but that has never been the story. From the minute he started getting playing time, Johnson earned attention for his on-court style, projecting extreme toughness and the sort of life experience that can't be faked. Simply put, Johnson looks like he's seen things that most active members of the basketball internet intelligentsia could only dream about. Naturally, he has become a blog favorite, grabbing online headlines for flipping off opposing fans at the end of a playoff series, shattering a backboard in a practice, and tossing one of the coolest passes of the 2012-13 season.
Sadly, we'll now have to say goodbye to him for the foreseeable future. As reported by Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Johnson has agreed to terms with a team in China (via PBT):
Ivan Johnson has agreed to a deal to play in China next season, according to his agent.
Johnson, who played the past two seasons with the Hawks, will play for Zhejiang China next season said agent Jeremiah Haylett. It is the same team Eddy Curry played for last season.
This result was somewhat predictable. Johnson was not given a qualifying offer by the Hawks at the beginning of free agency and likely scared many teams off due to his history. In addition to his middle-finger antics, Johnson was banned from Korean basketball for life in 2010 and has a reputation as the sort of person who can be difficult for employers to control. Fairly or not, many teams may think he's more trouble than he's worth.
Logic, however, does not change the fact that we will now be without a very entertaining player who makes our lives more exciting, if not necessarily saner. There's nothing keeping Johnson from returning to the NBA in the spring, when the China Basketball Association season ends, but it's also possible that we've seen the last of him at the highest level of American basketball.
If that's the case, we shouldn't forget the momentary, yet memorable impact he had on our experience of the league. He's one of a kind, even if he burned brightly for a relatively short period of time.