Eddie Johnson, N.B.A. Star Who Fell Into Crime, Dies at 65


Eddie Johnson, who fell from N.B.A. stardom into drug abuse and a life of crime that resulted in a life sentence for sexually assaulting a young girl, died on Oct. 25 in a state prison in Milton, Fla. He was 65.

The Florida Department of Corrections reported his death, at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution Annex, but did not give a cause.

Johnson, who was nicknamed Fast Eddie for his explosive first step, was drafted out of Auburn University in 1977 by the Atlanta Hawks. He soon became one of the team’s top players and started the 1980 and 1981 All-Star Games.

“He was built like a linebacker and was as fast as they come with the ball in his hands, putting it on the floor, attacking someone off the dribble,” Mike Fratello, who coached the Hawks during some of Johnson’s nine seasons with the team, said in a phone interview. “And he could defend because of his strength and his ability to move his feet.”

Johnson began to use cocaine in college and continued using it during his N.B.A. career. During his professional playing days, he was charged with cocaine possession, writing bad checks and car theft; he was hospitalized at least twice for treatment of manic-depressive disorder; and he successfully fled two men shooting at him in a motel parking lot after what the police said was a drug deal gone wrong.

In 1981, Johnson discussed his cocaine use in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “I partied a little extensively, but I wasn’t abusing it,” he said. “The whole idea of me abusing drugs is outlandish.”

With his production deteriorating and his behavior growing increasingly erratic, Johnson was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in early 1986; a year later, he signed with the Seattle Sonics. After several violations of the N.B.A.’s antidrug agreement, he was banned from the league in 1987.

In 10 seasons, Johnson averaged 15.1 points a game.

Edward Lee Johnson Jr. was born on Feb. 24, 1955, in Ocala, Fla., and grew up in nearby Weirsdale. He was a star at Lake Weir High School, whose basketball coach, Hugh Lindsley, told The Associated Press in 2006 that Johnson had been a flashy but effective player.

“I said, ‘You can throw a pass behind your back, but it dang sure better go where it’s supposed to go,’” he recalled. “And it usually did.”

Johnson’s younger brother Frank, who survives him, played in the N.B.A. for the Washington Bullets (now Wizards), Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns. Information on other survivors was not immediately available.

Eddie Johnson was among the Tigers’ leading scorers in all four of his years at Auburn. In his first season with the Hawks, he averaged 10.5 points a game; three years later, he was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 19.1.

“There were very few days during the four years that I coached him that he couldn’t turn on the burners,” Hubie Brown, the Hawks’ coach from 1976 to 1981, told Sports Illustrated. “In the games, no matter what his mental situation was, he could always produce to his potential.”

When there were no games left to play, Johnson’s life unraveled. By his own count, he was arrested at least 100 times. Between 1987 and 2001, he was convicted, among other crimes, of burglary, battery, drug sale and possession, violently resisting arrest and grand theft.

He committed his most serious crime in 2006. Prosecutors said he had entered the unlocked front door of an apartment in Ocala where an 8-year-old girl and her three brothers were alone watching television; a babysitter had stepped outside.

The girl testified at Johnson’s trial in 2008 that he had followed her to her bedroom, locked the door and pushed a dresser in front of it before sexually assaulting her. He was convicted of sexual battery and molestation. He received a mandatory life sentence.



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