When the Houston Rockets took on the Washington Wizards in November of 2002, Juaquin Hawkins had the best performance of his NBA career. He scored 14 points, and recorded 8 rebounds, 5 assists and a block to help the Rockets take a 93-86 victory over the Michael Jordan-led Wizards.
That night, Hawkins walked off the court of the Compaq Center feeling accomplished. A dream realized for the then 29-year-old California native who went undrafted during the 1996 NBA Draft. After several years playing overseas, Hawkins spent the entire 2002-03 season with the Rockets - leaning on the advice and stewardship from former team scout Brent B.J. Johnson.
“B.J. was not only a friend, but obviously a mentor to me. I was a no-name rookie coming into training camp from Lynwood, CA just trying to make the team. With the stacks already against me, he was just that person that kept me calm, cool and collective with his words of inspiration.” — Hawkins.
The sudden passing of the Rockets’ long-time scout left the organization and the NBA community as a whole heartbroken late-Thursday night. Johnson, who has been a part of the Rockets’ organization since the ‘95 season, died in a biking accident after he hit a construction ditch — according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. He was 65.
Johnson received countless of tributes following his untimely passing. Daryl Morey took to Twitter to credited Johnson for his assistants in creating a successful 14-year tenure as the Rockets’ general manager. While Houston’s current player development coach John Lucas described his longtime friend as an “uplifting spirit.”
The relationship between Hawkins and Johnson began the first day of training camp that summer. Hawkins was an unproven prospect trying to convey to management that he was deserving of a roster spot that featured Steve Francis, Cuttino Moble, and Yao Ming.
“I remember the first few days of training camp, B.J. approached me like: ‘What’s up, young fella? You got some game, but you got to work on this, that, and the other.’ And I am thinking to myself, ‘Who is this guy? He has to be important.’ But from that first day, every single day he was calling me to share what I needed to do in order to make the team.” — Hawkins
Hawkins said Johnson’s guidance on embracing his role as a defensive specialist is what led to him making his first NBA team as a member of the Rockets. Although he only played one season in the league, the lessons Johnson instilled in Hawkins enhanced a foundation that led to a successful 12-year pro basketball career.
Playing behind a future Hall-Of-Famer did not provide Hawkins with too many opportunities to see the floor. But a nippy night in early November was enough for Johnson to witness his mentee thrive under the bright lights on the biggest stage for the Rockets.
“For me to hear how he passed, it is an unbelievable tragedy. We are going to miss B.J., and I know personally I am going to miss him. He was a guy we all loved and will continue to help his memory live on.” — Hawkins.