‘It’s Still Surreal To Me’| NBA COVID-19 Surge Births The Return Of “Iso Joe” Johnson

More than 100 players have entered the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols in December alone, and the month isn’t over yet. Due to the limited number of able players, and the league’s insistence on not stopping the season, teams have been forced to sign players that have been out of the league for quite some time. Names like Lance Stephenson, CJ Miles, and Joe Johnson.


The ghosts of NBA players past like Joe Johnson have caused sections of NBA Twitter to tweet with excitement. In a full-circle story, “Iso Joe” was signed by the Boston Celtics, the team that drafted him 20 years ago. Now at 40 years old, Johnson is not the athlete he once was, but he can still get buckets.

Johnson only played two minutes, but held true to his nickname and scored his lone bucket in isolation.

“It’s amazing to be back here 20 years later,” Johnson said. “It’s still surreal to me.”

Despite not being in the NBA for three seasons, the seven-time all-star remained in basketball shape. He has been playing in Ice Cube’s Big3 league, winning two titles and played in the FIBA AmeriCup for Team USA in February.

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Despite playing well in these basketball situations, he likely thought his NBA days were over.

“I wouldn’t say give up, but I didn’t have high hopes,” Johnson said. “My son’s 14, so he keeps me in the gym. We work and work and work, and I always talk to him [and say], ‘Just work. Even when you can’t see what’s next, you just gotta continue to work.'”

Folks on NBA Twitter had a good time reveling in the nostalgia. What is sports if not an opportunity to recapture that feeling of your youth? Or remembering what it was like when a former good player did good things?

Get ready NBA fans. Over the next couple of months there will be more of these moments. The omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus is highly transmissible, and with the league maintaining its protocols and not pausing the season more and more former NBA players will be signed.

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Fans will certainly clamor to see more of these signings, as they’re feel-good stories. But don’t expect guys that haven’t been in the NBA in years to suddenly become the keys to a playoff push or a title run. There is a reason it took an ongoing global pandemic for these guys to get back in the league. If they could really help, they would already be in the league.

Mostly these players are here as stopgaps and to provide veteran leadership for the younger players that will be receiving the bulk of the minutes. Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, echoed that sentiment in his comments when Johnson was signed.

“The veteran experience and some leadership…We have guys who we’re relying on Payton (Pritchard), Romeo (Langford), Aaron (Nesmith), young guys that are stepping up and playing well, but we want more of a steadying presence and kind of know what they’re all about more so than a project or potential down the line.”

Kudos to Joe and all the other vets getting a chance to get a little more run in the league before it’s all said and done.

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