Basketball

Johnson is a different kind of Cat

So what do you want to know first about the newest Charlotte Bobcat?

That he eats only fish for animal protein and juices yams for a pregame snack.

That he took a year off from basketball to complete his finance degree at Tulane.

That his big break in the NBA was winning a street-ball tournament in his native Chicago.

Linton Johnson isn't a contestant on “Survivor.'' He's a 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward who the Bobcats hope will help upgrade their defense. He replaces Jermareo Davidson, waived Monday to open a roster spot with the season-opener Thursday in Cleveland.

Johnson was cut last week by the Washington Wizards. He's used to being cut and used to landing someplace else. Since 2003 he's been with the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets.

He's learned to laugh off rejection. He joked Tuesday that the best thing about landing with the Bobcats is trimming the nation's unemployment rate by one.

Three of Bobcats coach Larry Brown's friends – Milt Newton and Randy Ayers with the Wizards and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich – recommended this signing.

“(Newton and Ayers) both told me there might be a numbers issue (that would get him cut in Washington), but he's another George Lynch. And that's basically what Pop said, too,'' Brown explained.

Lynch was one of Brown's favorite players – a versatile defender in Philadelphia who did the things better scorers didn't prioritize.

“(Johnson) can guard 2s, 3s and 4s – that's the best part,'' said Brown, adding Johnson will initially play both forward spots, but is best suited to small forward.

Johnson is one persistent fellow. He was a solid, unremarkable player at Tulane, and when no NBA team drafted him, he broadened his options by staying in New Orleans to finish his finance degree.

Then an uncle loaned him bus-fare back to Chicago, where he stalked a local stock exchange, passing out his resume.

The best he could do? A $12,000-a-year offer from H&R Block.

That led him to revisit basketball, entering a one-on-one street tournament. The entry fee was $100, the top prize $5,000.

He won the thing, catching the eye of then-Bulls scout Pete Myers. That led to an informal tryout, playing pickup ball with Jalen Rose, where Johnson earned an invitation to training camp.

He started 20 games with the Bulls before being cut, and has searched for an NBA home ever since.

He thought that home might be San Antonio, where he got a championship ring in 2005, despite playing just two games and 15 minutes.

He lost most of that season to an ankle injury, pointing him to his current diet. A nutritionist advised him eating beef or chicken can interfere with the healing process.

“I'm what you call a pescatarian,'' Johnson said.

No, that isn't a Protestant faith. It's someone who eats only fish, vegetables and fruit.

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